Given the extreme degree to which humans are fouling our nest lately, the music of Altar of Plagues provides the eco-minded among us some catharsis. Or perhaps the band's latest EP, Tides, only makes us angrier. This Irish black-metal four-piece is, after all, relentlessly and fiercely apocalyptic. Its soundtrack — a persistent, earth-shattering din — befits an audience recently rocked by the BP oil spill, and all the frustrations that followed. In its own way, anger pays dividends.
And indeed, the 35-minute Tides is a masterpiece of doom-laden post-metal. Think of the scene in the zombie-horror flick 28 Days Later, where the Godspeed You! Black Emperor song plays ominously against a tour of deserted London, then magnify that times a thousand — and you get the drift. This is end-of-times, pro-environmental black metal, with double-kick blast beats used sparingly and for maximum effect.
Bleak as it is, guitarist James Kelly insists he's "a very happy person" day-to-day. It's just that he's compelled to direct his anger toward the "modern modus operandi."
"Performance is physical exercise for us," he said during a recent interview from his home in Cork. "We use it to expel aggressive energy. We don't feel angry after a performance — just exhausted and invigorated at the same time."
Cleary, Kelly is nature-inclined. His lyrics for Altar of Plague's 2009 full-length debut, White Tomb, were influenced by his stint working in the ancient landscape of Ireland's Burren, a breathtaking area of limestone caverns. Tides, on the other hand, is the result of days working on the Atlantic coast, learning the history of people who inhabited small Irish islands during the 17th century.
"The EP was also recorded during an extremely harsh winter here in Ireland, and I think that affected the mood of the music," he said. "Tides was less planned than White Tomb. We wanted [Tides] to feel chaotic and raw, like the ocean that inspired it."
That ocean might have been a fount of inspiration, but it also washed away humanity. Tides sounds hopeless. Its dismal tone leads a listener to feel there's no way out. Socialism, capitalism, religion, the Internet — all fail to thwart our extinction. So do the guys in Altar of Plagues drink beer to cope?
"Yes," said Kelly, unapologetically. "But because we enjoy social interaction. I don't drink to escape the things you described — for that there's writing music and words, enjoying nature and art." For a moment, Kelly seemed to have a change of heart. "As important as it is to think about the ills on this planet," he said, "it's also important to enjoy life, and be happy."