Altarage - Sol Corrupto (Throne Records)

It's almost fitting that the release strategy for Altarage's fifth full-length album rips a page right out of a playbook that's typically only utilized by techno/house artists.  Although I seldom encounter vinyl-only releases from extreme metal bands, they are a common export of the electronic music scene.  Limited-run, white label presses are the taste-making DJ's secret weapons, and when they are tactically deployed during peak time, the effect isn't just localized to an energized dancefloor.  These bomb-drops also whip up Reddit threads bustling with track-IDers and enraged FLAC collectors, while making Discogs prices soar.  In an age of infinite accessibility and on-demand streaming, there's an exotic allure to deliberate scarcity that deepens the zeal of the faithful.

The Spaniards in Altarage aren't DJs (to my knowledge, anyway) and I doubt they spend much time in clubs, but their mongrelized breed of dissodeath and hypermodern war metal is futuristic enough to warrant the comparison, especially given Sol Corrupto's singular format.  At a time when a lot of modern death metal is bewitched by old school aesthetics, their commitment to concept distinguishes them as a forward-thinking anomaly.  The style presented on previous albums is sleek and minimal, as if it was forged in the cold, black vacuum of space.  It's clear on these records that Altarage aren't just interested in adorning their music with spacy elements; instead, their goal is to wholly channel the Void in all of its ego-dissolving terror.  This is most evident in their streamlined approach to riff-craft, and the use of pummeling repetition in their songwriting.  It's as if the band understands that infinite space isn't the only dimension that defines the cosmosunbounded time is, too.  By iterating their riffs, they acknowledge (and venerate) the irreversible nature of time's passage in a way that feels like they have also somehow transcended its grasp.            

On NihlEndinghent, The Approaching Roar, and especially Succumb, the band found success with this heady formula, carefully balancing sinewy, hypnotic grooves with otherworldly atmosphere.  Sludgy, monolithic riffs seethed and churned, barely contained by seemingly mechanized drumming and only occasionally pierced by bestial, dehumanized vocals.  The production on these records is enormous, panoramic, and full of galaxy-sized reverb, making even the tiniest pick scrapes sound like the shuddering groans of a laser-torn hull.  Right under our noses, the band boldly swapped traditional war metal paraphernalia like spiked maces and bullet belts for more space-age weaponry, and somehow it worked.  Sure, other groups like Blood Incantation, Origin, and fellow countrymen Wormed were exploring similar territory, but none of these groups seemed as willing to wholly shed the OSDM skin to embrace something more dangerously prototypical. 

The band's previous hegemony of the avant-garde makes reviewing Sol Corrupto all the more difficult, because the LP feels like a giant step backwards. To begin with, there's just not much meat on the bone.  This is a three-track affair, and only two songs showcase the band's signature style.  "Portador" and "Masochist" are serviceable, but they don't add anything new to the formula, and neither have much in the way of memorable moments.  They aren't bad tracks per se, but they lack the subtle details and barely-restrained malevolence that elevated similar material on previous albums, and (even worse) feel slightly rushed.  Sadly, they just aren't worthy of the hype that usually surrounds limited-run releases.

The third and final track is even more of a headscratcher; however, featuring an 18 minute drone that sounds like a cell phone recording of a washing machine.  It's homogenous, unimaginative and goes absolutely nowhere over the course of its extended runtime.  Even as a fan of ambient music, I struggle to identify a single element that would justify subjecting myself again to its unchanging, gunmetal grey rumble.  Unless I exhaust my supply of sleeping medication in the near future, I'm unlikely to return to it.  Perhaps the band's decision to restrict access to it has more to do with it's potentially soporific effects than anything else, because it's the most boring thing they've ever recorded.

Despite the lofty expectations with which I approached it, I must conclude that only the most fervent and diehard of Altarage fans should dare attempt to grip a copy of Sol Corrupto.  In that regard, maybe it's better that it is exclusively available on wax, because it'll be that much easier for the rest of us to forget.  Don't get me wrongI'm eager to see the band drop a worthy follow-up to Succumb, even if it is difficult to acquire.  To put it bluntly, this just isn't it.