Altars of Grief

Canada’s Hypnotic Dirge Records is best known for its crippling doom metal but a few recent forays into atmospheric/depressive/black metal such as Kassad, None, Kval, Mavradoxa  and such haven’t been quite as successful in my humble opinion, but a here is a glorious, rending return to from from Canada’s own aptly named “prairie doom” act Altars of Grief, and it’s utterly amazing.

I hate to use the name of deceased folks and influences , but when Damien Smith starts to croon in the last third of opener “Isolation”, I can’t help but think of David Gold (RIP) and the latter Woods of Ypres releases. The album has that lumbering despondent, wilting, doom metal aura, but also injects some more urgent, virile black-ish metal expulsions here and there that work really well. The addition of some synths and gorgeous cellos, (fittingly played by Raphael Weinroth-Browne- who also played on Woods of YpresWoods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light), adds to the mood (“Broken Hymns” is just…….) making for a perfect album of the genre.

The guitars have some nice crunch, the harsh vocals are a nice mix of growls and blacker rasps, but it all comes together wrapped in a somber but extravagant and lavish release dripping with despondent clarity. The atmospheric black metal moments are also impressive, not just piece meal- as heard on second track “Desolation”  (which has a stunning transition to cleaner despondency around 3 minutes in) or a few minutes into in the brilliant title track.

But for traditional styled, crunchy, crushing but emotive doom that has nods to the classic British triumvirate or the Finnish doom/death scene the band truly shines on “Child of Light”,  My Dying Bride-ish cello tinged trudge of  “Voices of Winter” (that bridge at 5;14 is simply perfect), or utterly wilting “Broken Hymns” which morphs into a truly spectacular, melodic black metal, clean sing moment that has to be heard to be believed, and might move you to tears  (it’s something in my eye , I swear).

Before “Epilogue” ends the album with 2 minutes of gorgeous violins and cellos, “Becoming Intangible” delivers 4 minutes of slow burning acoustics, cellos and spoken word/clean singing before a goddamn amazing melodic/ atmospheric  black metal climax that rivals anything in the current atmospheric black metal genre has to offer, including ……dare I say, DeafheavenVallendusk and Panopticon. The track closes with a perfect doom, lope, letting the listener come down from the prior few minutes of pure, musical perfection.

Iris is easily the best release Hypnotic Dirge has put out since Atten Ash‘s The Hourglass back in 2015, and it could be the best thing the label has ever released.  Its also  one of the best doom releases of the last few years I have heard and is a sure fire top ten release for 2018 as far as I’m concerned. Magnificent stuff .

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
June 25th, 2018


  1. Commented by: Jeebus

    Abit much praise for a very standard album.too many clean vocals for my liking and comparing then to woods of crapness would kill it for me if I didn’t already hear this.

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