Label: Hypnotic Dirge Records
Despite being “only” 55 minutes long, Iris feels much, much longer. The second album from Altars of Grief is a leviathan of blackened, gothic doom, filled with a spirit that is equal parts mournful and furious. Telling the tale of a father who abandons his sick daughter, only to die and be condemned to watch her slowly succumb to illness, it is every bit as bright as the subject matter implies. And yet, there is something curiously addictive about the album, leaving listeners coming back for more, despite the heart-breaks they know will follow.
There is something beautiful about this album. Whilst some blackened doom bands will revel in the deep, dark places their sound creates, Altars of Grief instead add a wonderful sense of contrast, with soaring vocals and clean guitars sitting alongside more crushing, typically extreme passages. Nor does Iris stay in the slow tempos that are typically associated with doom; as early as second track ‘Desolation’, Altar of Grief are introducing furious movements, powered along by blast-beats and harsh vocals. The way that they transpose in to slower sections is skillful, and adds further depths of emotion to an already sorrowful sound.
And oh, what emotions the album conjures! As would be expected from an album about a father abandoning his daughter, and then spending his time in purgatory watching her die, it is hardly an easy or happy listen, especially as the songs are approached from the perspective of the father in the tale. And yet, by tackling such a bleak tale head-on, Altars of Grief give the listener space to explore their own sense of failure and grief, and as such, Iris can be quite a cathartic listen.
If all of this makes Iris sound like a difficult album to approach – well, I can’t lie, it is. Any album with such subject matter surely must be. Yet Altars of Grief are such a skilled band, that once Iris has a hold of you, it is hard to let go. The frequent shifts in tempo and emphasis across the album keep the listener engaged, and it’s difficult to second-guess what direction the music will move in next. The way the band mix black metal fury, gothic splendor, and doom metal melancholy is superb, and feels fresh and strangely invigorating.
For all its darkness, Iris also feels at times like a ray of light piercing the all-encompassing night; a small ray of hope in a world that is all-but devoid of such a concept. The emotional catharsis on offer is on par with the greats of doom and gothic metal, and it’s hard not to be swept along by the pull of Iris, embraced within its bleak, yet paradoxically comforting sounds. Fans of the likes of Paradise Lost, Swallow the Sun, and Woods of Ypres should be all over Iris.
Iris is due for release on 21 March 2018, and can be pre-ordered digitally and on CD via Bandcamp.