Charnel Altar- Abatement of the Sun (Album Review)

Dec. 16, 2021


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Slower paced death metal and death/doom can often be hard to do right, as while it’s easy to establish tense atmosphere and colossal sounding tonality, without an effective use of space and actual riffs to back up the atmosphere the material will lack staying power.  Australia’s Charnel Altar shows a clear understanding of how to do this right on their debut full-length Abatement of the Sun, which follows a demo and split over the past few years.  Treading that fine line between tense yet spacious death/doom and churning old-school death metal, the band provides plenty of haunting and foundation shaking material that is sure to stick with quite a few listeners.

Australia really has a knack for some of the most cavernous and dread inducing death/doom out there, and Charnel Altar treads a similar path as fellow countrymen diSEMBOWELMENT, Impetuous Ritual, and Grave Upheaval while also allowing for a slight bit of black metal tonality to seep in.  Each of the six songs on Abatement of the Sun sprawl outwards towards the seven-to-eight-minute mark, allowing plenty of time for the instrumentation to methodically twist and turn in ways that provide the maximum amount of tension.  There’s a fantastic use of space here, as the band slows and stretches ideas out to build up the thick, sludge like tonality but transitions over to more chaotic and violent tempos at just the right moment before there’s any risk of repetition or lost impact.  This is helped by riffs that stand out on quite a few of the songs, and the effects used on tracks like “Slaughter” give off reverberations that make it feel like you’re standing within the walls of a decrepit cathedral.  Considering that this band is a trio, the sheer density and sludge-like tone would have you thinking otherwise, and that’s not always an easy feat to pull off.  Admittedly given the methodical, plodding nature of many of the passages there are some similar sounding moments by the end of Abatement of the Sun, and the songs that stand out the most to me are the first three.  Yet there’s a consistency to the tense, murky qualities that has made Charnel Altar’s debut an appealing listen all the way through and I’ve found myself drawn back into its spacious yet crushing songs more often than some of the more haphazardly arranged death/doom that has come across my desk in 2021.

While there may be some hints of black metal in the guitar and bass tonality, the vocals remain firmly rooted in death metal.  Charnel Altar doesn’t deviate much from what you would expect here, offering up deep growls and higher pitched screams that seem to emerge from the grime.  Two of the three members contribute vocal work, and this allows for some variation in terms of when the high and low pitched appear, though the growls do dominate a lot of the run-time.  I appreciate how balanced the vocals and instrumentals are on the recording, as when death and doom are this cavernous and murky there’s a tendency for the vocal work to get completely buried.  But on Abatement of the Sun it’s able to consistently break through and add to the overall tension, ensuring that just when you thought you were safe there’s still plenty to be afraid of.

There remains some growing room for Charnel Altar to further distinguish themselves from some of the death and doom their material is pulling influence from, but they’ve still delivered a consistently strong debut that brings plenty of tense and memorable moments with it.  The understanding of atmosphere building pacing and when to bring things back to churning chaotic riffing works to their advantage and showcases that even on album one these guys have plenty to offer listeners.  While a lot of people are focused on year end highlights that were locked in prior to December, releases like this are still trickling out to finish 2021 off strong and deserve equally as much attention.  Abatement of the Sun is available from Blood Harvest Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg

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