Altar of Oblivion – Grand Gesture of Defiance
Posted by Terrible Certainty Zine
It took a minute for Altar of Oblivion’s debut, 2009’s Sinews of Anguish, to really click for me, but after a handful of listens things fell into place in a big way and the album got a hell of a lot of spins. Since then, the word from Shadow Kingdom Records was that the band’s follow up effort was just around the corner. The months clicked by without any new metal, and suddenly in 2012 we’re treated to not just one Altars of Oblivion release but two. It was worth the wait. Grand Gesture of Defiance is a very like-minded follow up to January’s Salvation, which was technically an EP but packed with a generous half-hour of doom. Since their debut the band has maintained, if polished, their brand of pure blooded, backward-minded epic doom metal in the grand old tradition that fans of Candlemass will devour, and Grand Gesture of Defiance is their best work yet.
The main departure between Sinews of Anguish and the Altar of Oblivion of today is the more refined, less operatic doom vocals of Mik Mentor. The vocals, as is the case with so many bands, will always be a divisive element of Altar of Oblivion. Mentor’s voice has boatloads of character and truly drives the material’s ability to emotionally connect with the listener, but it must be acknowledged that his dramatic delivery is likely to be the most defining argument for and against the band’s appeal. As I said, it did take me some time to settle in with them, but it seems likely that the vocals on Salvation and Grand Gesture of Defiance will be an easier acclimation for the uninitiated.
The music itself can feel understated beneath the theatrical vocals, but familiarity helps one realize how well the music and vocals interplay, in large part due to Altar’s ace in the hole, the impressive leads of Martin Mendelssohn. Medelssohn recognizes choosing and accenting the right notes is infinitely more important than the number of notes played, and his work always adds to the hook and development of the songs. The riff work is quite traditional and without much flash, but just like the leads, they work, and there’s a near endless supply of quality here. The songs succeed due to the band’s ability to create strong pacing and song development. The inclusions of quiet, cleanly picked passages and alternating clean to crunch moments are of course commonplace tried and true tools, but there’s a difference between doing something and doing it well, and Altar’s deft implementation creates an epicness that cannot be denied, and one that is out of reach for many bands.
Altar of Oblivion know not only how to pace a song, but also sequence an album. Grand Gesture of Defiance is listenable front to back not only because the quality is remarkably consistent, but because the tracks are aligned in a way that maximizes the ebb and flow of the material, starting with the one-two opening heft of “Where Darkness is Light” and “The Graveyard of Broken Dreams” and culminating with the introspective, cathartic “Final Perfection.” It’s true that Altar of Oblivion will be a difficult sell to many in today’s market. But there is a core of metalheads that are ever-bound to true, timeless heavy metal, and in Grand Gesture of Defiance they will find epic doom excellence.