In Praise of Annihilation: A Review of Altarage’s Nihl

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Last year, mysterious Spanish quartet Altarage made a strong case for their right to sit the cavernous death metal throne with their MMXV Demo. Does their debut album, Nihl, deliver on the promise of menacing power prophesied by those first two tracks, or do these would-be-usurpers fall short of glory?

There are many different paths a young band can take to kingship. Altarage have opted for the difficult road of building upon the formula first laid by the legendary heroes that once strode the land. In this case, Altarage have elected to adopt the stylings of Morbid Angel, specifically the downtuned, slow, pensive approach crafted by Azagthoth, Tucker, Rutan, and Sandoval on Gateways to Annihilation. It’s impossible to listen to the eight tracks on Nihl and not hear the genetic blueprint of Azagthoth’s precise, restrained-chaos approach to writing riffs. Even the track “Altars”, featured initially on the demo, sports a riff that sounds almost identical to the opening riff on Morbid Angel’s “Ageless Still I Am” (and incidentally Gojira‘s “Wolf Down the Earth”, though “Altars” is easily the most monstrous of the three tracks). There are other little traces of Morbid Angel found amid the rest of the flotsam and jetsam as well, from the howling vocal approach to the general rhythm to the mechanical precision of the drums. Altarage know their history, and they know a strong foundation when they see one.

That isn’t to say that the band is engaging in simple hero worship, though. There are a number of elegant little deviations and quirky intricacies to separate this band from their royal predecessors. The middle section of “Womborous” features heavy drum syncopation that dances the fine line between order and chaos. The pacing and riffs in “Baptism Nihl” are much more calibrated to a doom vibe and completely redirect the flow of the first three blast-heavy tracks before “Batherex” makes use of a tribal drumming pattern that would seem more at home in an ISIS track than an Antediluvian song. The twists and turns keep coming until a fade-in growl at the beginning of “Cultus” disarms your expectations and leaves you completely vulnerable at the end of the album.

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The glue holding all of those unique elements together is stellar musicianship. It’s extremely obvious that this young band takes their craft very seriously. As I mentioned before, the Azaghtothian rhythmic precision is evident in every single track. Even as the drums deftly careen from breakneck blasts to elephantine dirges, the guitars and bass always stay in step, either matching each percussive stroke with a monstrous note or splitting off to create a droning, extra-dimensional buzz that only accentuates the massive wall of sounding collapsing upon you like a cosmic singularity. Every pick scrape, every drum fade, every tortured howl from the netherworld was crafted with an eye for detail and intricacy to make this album a cosmic labyrinthine that treats gravity as mere toy; it is perpetually challenging, complex, and crushing. In many ways, Nihl sounds like the work of a veteran unit more than a debut attempt at grandeur.

Of course, all of those elements would mean nothing individually if the entire package lacked cohesion. For all its spellbinding bends and barraging dissonance, Altarage never find themselves chasing rabbit trails or indulging bloated ideas. Nihl is deceptively intricate, yet it never feels dull or loses itself in the winding paths. The production is likely a big factor in this. Although the album’s finish is decidedly raw and plumbs the sonic depths of void-dwellers like Portal and Ulcerate, there’s just enough clarity to allow listeners to peek behind the wall of crawling chaos to witness the infernal machinery allowing the whole hellish engine to run. It’s a perfect balance between polish and cavernous roar that suits the songs and maintains a uniform consistency despite the variation across songs.

Ultimately, Nihl is an album that sounds reverent, both to the primordial powers of chaos that the band transmutes into a surprisingly refined tangle of cyclopean riffs and rhythmic changes and to the legendary bands that strode this mortal plane before them. It’s a wholly impressive debut, one that falls between the two pillars of mimicry and innovation, and for that reason, Nihl gets 4.5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell. Go forth and annihilate.

NEW_TOILETSCALE_4-5_of_5

Nihl is out February 26th via Iron Bonehead. You can pre-order it here and give the band a like here.

(Photos VIA)

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  • CyberneticOrganism
  • COAL GROHL

    This certainly fills the void for me that begun with track 1 of Heretic
    Do you have the entire release W?

    • Dubs

      I do. The internet at large does not.

      • COAL GROHL

        Feel free to be the man and share it with me.
        Does the press kit credit MA as inspiration?

        • Dubs

          “Hot on the heels of their IRON BONEHEAD-released MMXV 7” last year, Spain’s ALTARAGE return with their highly anticipated debut album, NIHL. Much like labelmates HIC IACET and SACRIFICIO, the mysterious ALTARAGE hail from Spain and are a conjuration of musicians with veteran status in the metal underground. The band’s opening MMXV assault was a quick ‘n’ consuming blast of blown-out bestial grind and juddering, volcanic down-tempo surges. However, the record was a mere two songs, and only suggested the synapse-destroying mastery to come. With NIHL, ALTARAGE have created an even wider world-eating vortex that rips asunder the fibers of blackened death metal – and the listener’s own comfort levels. The sound across NIHL is absolutely MASSIVE – every guitar tone rich with destruction, every drum hit the echo of war, the vocals once again less like anything emanating from a human and more the sound of a derelict factory’s soul being torn apart – which then sets the stage for a full-scale sonic meltdown. Undeniably, the basis of ALTARAGE is firmly within death metal, but the band dutifully strive for the most alien hinterlands of the imagination, where riffs sound less like “riffs” and more like the mangled language of a lifeform both a millennium into the future and the past. Even the song titles themselves suggest as much (among them: “Batherex,” “Graehence,” “Drevicet,” and the telltale “Womborous”), and the cold ‘n’ calculated, martial ‘n’ militant manner in which ALTARAGE play likewise suggests life far, far removed from the “human.” Taken together, the totality of NIHL is a landscape unto itself, and the work of titanic death metal deviance. “

          • COAL GROHL

            “mangled language of a lifeform both a millennium into the future and the past” sounds like something Trey would say.

            I would love to hear more of this ASAP

          • Dubs

            I’m not the pirate you’re looking for, sadly.

          • COAL GROHL

            Do you know if this will be a digital release only?

          • Dubs

            I don’t believe it will be. Most stuff Iron Bonehead releases can be bought physically.

            Also, there’s nothing I could do anyway if you wanted it. The files are on my hard-drive at home, and my desktop currently needs a new SSD to function.

          • COAL GROHL

            I’m going to need to keep an eye out for that.

            I used to stockpile music onto a ext HD, but someone broke into my office and stole it, and that’s when I decided to go back to physical.

            I hope that whoever stole my drive actually listens and it didn’t end up deleted and in a pawn shop somewhere.

          • Dubs

            I want to believe.

          • ULTRA RARE BLACKBEARD
          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            Blackbeard plz! No one should want to belieb!

          • COAL GROHL

            I do every day.

          • Dubs

            My old truck got broken into, and my ex-girlfriend’s expensive DSLR was stolen. They leafed through my cd book, saw it was full of metal, and left it.

          • COAL GROHL

            strange huh? Also taken in our office break in were 4 potted plants, and one laptop(which happened to contain lots and lots of alternative lifestyle adult advertising hue hue hue). Oddly, our office till that we pool for tacos once a month was untouched.

          • Dubs

            Strange about the plants.

          • COAL GROHL

            we’re still not entirely sure that someone is not simply living in the basement of the building. No one dares venture down to look

          • Lacertilian

            but what of your Creedence tapes?

  • I can feel the skronk, but it gives me less disorientation than Portal or Ulcerate.

    I don’t think I would enjoy this for too long, I would probably get tired of it very easy. I listened Vortex Pyramid and in the first minutes I was cool, then I lost my interest.

    Good review, W.

  • ULTRA RARE BLACKBEARD

    meh

  • I tried the new track and listened to the older one again. It’s still not clicking for me. It just sounds like a more chuggy and break-downy Portal. That section in Nihl at 1:30 really makes me cringe. Just too many break downs and picking up change sections.

    I do however love the sound of this record. It sounds so mean and utterly frightening. I think if it was more unrelenting and blasting I’d like it more. The chugga chugg chugg sections are just gross.

    • Dubs

      I like the variety and change-ups, honestly. The sound is so dense throughout that it would all seriously blend together if the little variations weren’t present.

      • I don’t mind change-ups in pace, but they way they change it up just doesn’t work for me. Still crushing though. Cool review, I definitely see the Gateways comparison.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      But 1:30 is the coolest part! Loose bendy downtuned filthy murk.

      • Sure. Sounds like a metal-core break-down to me.

        • CyberneticOrganism

          Different tastes I guess, doesn’t sound anything like a breakdown to me at all.

          • Dubs

            I would say that they do use some breakdowns in the classic death metal sense, i.e. a juddering change in pace, but I dunno that I would say it’s core influenced.

          • CyberneticOrganism

            Spot-on, I’m not hearing anything here that would indicate ear gauges and flannel shirts

          • ULTRA RARE BLACKBEARD

            Im sick of all the flannel hate around here

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            I am too. Flannel is nice and warm.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            Cybro plz! My sister has ear gauges! She listen to pop punk though.

          • Dubs

            I’d actually say they hit a breakdown earlier at 1:55 too.

          • Dubs

            Edit: or at least a change-up in rhythm. The one at 2:20 is definitely more noticeable.

          • Yeah, for sure. I was going for the more slow tempoed part. Since that’s sort in the vein of what that break down is in Altarage.

          • Dubs

            I like the one you mentioned.

          • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

            None So Vile and Pierced from Within breakdowns = best breakdowns.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJbsJJwN8hg

          • Dave Vincent’s Perm

            I believe I’m alone in thinking that Pierced From Within <<<<<<<<<

          • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

            For me it’s a tie between Effigy and Pierced for my favourite Suffocation album.
            You probably aren’t alone in not liking it. No shame in that either. I for one really don’t see the appeal in Nespithe. Listened to that album over and over, but I just don’t get it. Sounds ridiculous to my ears.

          • Dave Vincent’s Perm

            Pierced from within could be a great album if there weren’t so many obnoxious stops. Besides, the production is too clean for me; everyone complains about the production on Breeding the Spawn but for me it sounds much better.

          • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

            For me it’s the opposite. The production is what kinda kills Breeding the Spawn for me. “Kills” maybe isn’t the right word, because I still more or less like that album, but I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as Effigy or Suffocation. I don’t really need some shiny spotless production, but I don’t mind a bit of polish. But that’s just me…

          • Dave Vincent’s Perm

            The annoying thing about Suffocation is that each album has a particular flaw which stops it from being perfect. My favourite is Human Waste because of how cavernous it sounds.

          • I tend to agree.

          • Kanye’s Booty Finger Sundae

            It was the first death metal CD I got into (along with My Dying Bride’s ‘Turn Loose The Swans’), so it’ll always have a spot in my filthy little heart.

          • Dave Vincent’s Perm

            My Dying Bride >>>>>>>>>>>

          • Kanye’s Booty Finger Sundae

            Not since The Dreadful Hours, sadly. The new CD is insanely lolbuttz.

          • Dave Vincent’s Perm

            The Manuscript is good though.

          • Lacertilian

            I really really tried to enjoy Nespithe, I love the music but the toilet vocals are just too comical/distracting for me to be fully engaged with the composition.

          • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

            The music is alright, but even that gets a bit tiresome to listen to. The vocals are just laughable. I’ve seen people describe that album as “a soundtrack to hell”, “disturbing”… I just don’t get it. I burst out laughing everytime I try to play that thing.
            It’s the same with Cynic for me. Great musicianship, no doubt. But those vocals…fucking hell are they terrible.

          • Really? Must be then. I think that drum beat/pattern has something to do with it. Sounds very Djenty. All I see in my mind is this when I hear it.

            http://i.giphy.com/HlxWlbGXxgB0Y.gif

          • you made a similar observation about that Exile album. and all i can say is that i’m glad they don’t trigger the same feeling to my ears, cause i might be inclined to turn it off too

          • CyberneticOrganism

            Oh plz god no

          • Sorry, just how I hear it. No good.

          • ULTRA RARE BLACKBEARD

            i do see some jumpdafuqup in there

          • Good, I’m not the only one that looks like a dork here 😉

          • Boss the Ross

            I finally got to listen to the song, work doesn’t allow for much listening/paying attention to music, and i definitely get the vibe you are talking about. Personally, i found it to be not bad, but i understand what you mean.

      • Kanye’s Booty Finger Sundae
    • Boss the Ross

      I’ll pick up all the change for you

      • Boss the Ross

        This really isn’t the best gif.

      • Thanks. I knew I could count on the rest of yins.

        • ULTRA RARE BLACKBEARD

          i hate it when people say Y’uns

          all the time. its infuriating

          • Sorry.

          • Boss the Ross

            Y’all?

          • I’ve lived in NC and VA. That’s all they say. Now that I’m in Central PA all I hear is Yins.

          • Boss the Ross

            Here in Texas it’s all “y’all” all the time. First time i heard y’uns was in Missouri.

          • ULTRA RARE BLACKBEARD

            i hear both daily

          • Kanye’s Booty Finger Sundae

            What part of VA? I’m in the southeast end (Hampton Roads)

      • Kanye’s Booty Finger Sundae

        Looks like he lost his contacts.

  • Can’t wait for this to consume me. Nothing Sexual.

    • Edward/Breegrodamus™

      Something sexual.

  • Waynecro

    Pretty jazzed about this. I loved the demo, and what I’ve heard of Nihl sounds pretty swell.

  • Scrimm

    Liking the production on this.

    • COAL GROHL

      me too, but the guitar tone doesn’t really have that midrange razor’s edge that Trey gets. Not that it’s a bad thing. But since all the MA comparisons are out there.

      • Scrimm

        Yeah not quite

      • I don’t think Dubya was referring to the guitar tone. I think he was comparing it to Trey’s guitar style on Gateways.

        • Dubs

          Bingo. That tight right hand.

        • COAL GROHL

          I agree on that front…stylistically, this is very much like what you hear on. The tone I guess make it not be straight worship.

          • Dubs

            I’m glad they didn’t fully adopt the tone. I wouldn’t have been as pleased with an outright copy.

          • The tone is what give it the Portal vibe. Which is nasty sounding.

  • sweetooth0

    I am liking this, and your review is really making me want to throw my old Gateways CD on when I get home!

    • Dubs

      I think this will be right up your alley.

    • First Morbid Angel album I heard and purchased. Still love it.

      • Dubs

        Best Buy, right?

        • Haha yup. When I was like in Middle School. So bizarre to think that I bought a Morbid Angel album at Best Buy now.

          • COAL GROHL

            I got mine there too. This is one of those albums that goes everywhere with me.

          • Scrimm

            I bought Demilich there.

          • Dubs

            WOW

          • Scrimm

            I know I look back on that day with amazement.

          • That’s, um yeah. What Dubya said.

          • COAL GROHL

            On this topic of retailers….I have lots of tapes & a handful of records that came from the clubs(me and mailmanbro have been buddies for a long time), and it’s interesting to see how club versions of stuff are demanding a premium on Discogs.

          • sweetooth0

            Like Columbia House and BMG?

          • COAL GROHL

            Yes!

        • Janitor Jim Duggan

          Speaking of Best Buy at the one near me they had Revocation and Obscura. They sold all the copies though before I could buy one.

          • COAL GROHL

            people there have good taste in music

        • sweetooth0

          I special ordered the uncensored version of Tomb of the Mutiliated from Future Shop (same company as Best Buy, but up here in Canada) back when I was in like grade 9 or something.

      • sweetooth0

        Ha ha, me too!

  • Edward/Breegrodamus™

    I’d like to be able to write a review this good, someday.

    • Dubs

      Psh. Your Fulteraar was just as good. Easily.

      • Edward/Breegrodamus™

        That’s nice of you, but not even close lol

  • Iron Bonehead Production is off to a really good start this year. So many releases already out and many that I need to still listen to. Hopefully this weekend I’ll get caught up.

    • Dubs

      Can’t argue with you there. That last batch of promos I covered from the end of last year/beginning of this one was killer.

      • Indeed. I still want to check out Temple Below, Khthoniik Cerviiks, and Hostium. I love that new Eucharist and Dakhma though. Need a full length Sacrocure album, that EP was not enough to get me excited. Much more to come!!!!

        • Dubs

          Oddly enough, i actually think I prefer the Khthoniik Cerviiks demo. I’m having my trouble placing my finger on why, but I think it sounded a bit more unhinged.

          • Interesting. I’ll be sure to get back to you after I listen to it.

        • ULTRA RARE BLACKBEARD

          thay new Eucharist is good

  • ULTRA RARE BLACKBEARD

    just got 10 gallons of gas for 99c

    #lifehacks

  • Óðinn
  • Dubya, did you see/hear this yet. I know you dig Ævangelist so…

    https://deathfetishist.bandcamp.com/album/whorifice-ep

    • Dubs

      I just listened to it, actually.

      • Well then… How about that.

    • Edward/Breegrodamus™

      I literally just emailed Dubs about this haha

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    I found a baseball card of a guy named Dennis Lamp. His name makes me laugh.

      • Kanye’s Booty Finger Sundae

        Isn’t that the same chick from Strangers With Candy?

        • It’s Kate McKinnon. Probably the funniest woman out there right now.

    • Óðinn
      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        I only listen to Tubular Bells when im exercising.

        • Óðinn
          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            I don’t do that. I use the elliptical and I do the machines.

          • ULTRA RARE BLACKBEARD

            so, this is what arnold was talking about

          • Owlswald

            I can’t stop hearing S.O.A.D’s “Pogo” in my head while watching Mr. Shake Weight.

          • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

            Never gets old. (Wobbly things in the face)

          • Kanye’s Booty Finger Sundae
        • Boss the Ross

          I listen when I’m exorcising.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            That’s a good joke. I’m also scared of Orel Hershiser’s face.

          • Boss the Ross

            He’s a funky looking dude.

    • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

      Cubs pitcher?

      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        Blue Jays pitcher.

  • Eliza

    This is great! It made my day better.

  • THIS CAME OUT LAST NIGHT, WOOHOO!!!

    • Boss the Ross

      And it CRUSHES!!!!!!!!!

      • BtR, did you know that Argonia records is selling everything on Bandcamp for $3 a piece?
        https://agoniarecords.bandcamp.com/
        it’s only for the rest of February. see if there’s anything you would recommend to a fellow flusher…

        • Boss the Ross

          I’ll go back through it. I picked up Tombstone Highway because of the sweet banjo riffage and the Southern Metal vibe from Italy made me laugh.