Tuesday 19 July 2011


They took the metal underground by storm. But two strong EPs, “Through the Crack of the Earth” and “Sol”, published consecutively in 2007 and 2008 were only heralds of what was about to happen later. Their debut long play “White Tomb” marched high on the ‘best of’ lists of 2009 and Tom G. Warrior, as a curator of the Roadburn festival, invited the Irish group to be a part of the “Only Death is Real” event in April 2010 by performing the record live in its entirety. The band returned in 2011 with a second album, “Mammal”, in the meantime releasing an excellent EP, “Tides”, which only made their music a more obscure and disturbing wave of intensive sounds. Again they hit deadly and precisely. Altar of Plagues’ guitarist and vocalist James Kelly talks to We Wither about post-black metal, Ireland and poetry.

“White Tomb” was a quality record and it was acclaimed too. Do you think you have bettered it with “Mammal”?
I would never describe something new as 'bettering' something older. They were created for different reasons, under different circumstances, and with different motivations musical and emotional. We were extremely pleased with “White Tomb” and likewise we are equally pleased with “Mammal”. Something that felt different to me when writing and recording "Mammal" is that we are now much more comfortable working together and we have a far more natural dynamic as writers. We have improved our craft, so to speak.

Was the writing process of “Mammal” any different to the previous sessions?
It was written in a very natural and impulsive manner. “Mammal” essentially came about as we had reached the point where we felt we were ready to create an album. We felt inspired and our energy levels were high. We toured quite a bit last year and the intense energy of live performance found its way into our writing. I wrote the basic tracks first and we collectively structured them. We prefer to let the music dictate its own structure and this was especially the case when writing "Mammal". It is about achieving a sort of emotional exhaustion or climax. Once we have delivered that motivational force then we know a track is complete.

How close to perfection is the sound of “Mammal” in your opinion? Did you achieve everything you wanted with it? Is there any room for improvement?
Yes we feel that we have achieved everything that we wanted with it. We anticipate the recording process, and now having endured it a number of times, we know what we like and don't like, and how we wish to approach it, generally speaking. During the mixing process we are quite meticulous and ensure everything is exactly as we want it to be. But once we all agree that the work is complete, we no longer listen to it in a critical manner and we simply engage with it as listeners.

Does post-black metal mean anything to you? Isn’t it just a label created for the lack of accurate words to describe your style?
I have never been a fan of that word as it has far too many negative connotations. It is generally associated with the word 'hipster' – a word that means nothing to a man from rural Ireland. If people struggle to pigeonhole us then that is only a good thing in my opinion. We have never been interested in being a copy cat band, or a part of a specific scene. We simply do what we want to do. I am very much enjoying the black metal, or derivatives of black metal, that have appeared in the past number of years. There is a true honesty behind all of this, I believe.

“Mammal” is issued with different cover art through Profound Lore in America and Candlelight in Europe. Was that your idea? Which art is your first choice?
This was a choice made collectively between ourselves and the labels. It was not any sort of a marketing ploy to sell extra copies (we detest such things), it was just a simple means of keeping both releases distinct from one another. We decided that we would choose two very different artworks, but wanted both to be entirely representative of the album’s concepts. We are extremely pleased with the outcome. The photograph used for the Candlelight edition was captured by Daniel Sesé, whose work I came by when looking at some photography. We contacted Ketola as I am a huge admirer of his work and I was confident that he would be more than capable of creating the right piece, which we feel he did. I like that both covers are quite ambiguous and are open to interpretation. However, both artworks were created (in the case of the Profound Lore edition) or sourced (in the case of the Candlelight edition) after the album was completed and as such the lyrical content was in mind throughout this process. I think that the representational value of each cover becomes somewhat more apparent when one reads the lyrics to “Mammal”.

How did you get to release your EP “Tides” through Burning World Records?
Quite simple actually - they just sent us a message saying that they would like to work with us.

What are the chances of you getting your Roadburn show published?
I'm not entirely sure. For various reasons we were not entirely happy with our set(s) but it’s a lesson learned. I have not listened to the recording myself but I'm not confident that they would be the best possible representation of our live performance.

What is the inspiration of Emily Dickinson’s poetry to your music?
Her work is immensely beautiful while touching upon some of the darkest subjects. She sees the world in a very unique way and describes her world with such colourful language. Her personality shines through her work and I think if you read a number of her poems consecutively you may begin to see how her moods change, often indicated by optimism or pessimism. There is a great deal of ambiguity in her work which I also enjoy as it allows the reader to make their own interpretations, as opposed to some other poets of similar statue who may have been less reclusive, and actually provide explanations of their work.
What other literature would you name as an inspiration to Altar of Plagues?
John Steinbeck’s "To a God Unknown", W.B Yeat's "The Second Coming", J.M. Synge’s "The Playboy of the Western World", Aldo Leopold’s "A Sand County Almanac".

Is Altar of Plagues mainly a live band? Is playing live hard work or something you always look forward to and enjoy?
Writing and performing live are my favourite aspects of music. Recording is a necessary evil. I believe that the music only truly exists when we perform it. That is when it is a living, real thing. Recorded music is just a document. While recordings serve their own purpose, I believe strongly in the power of live energy.

Could you say a little about the upcoming project, the split with Year of No Light?
It is a track from the "White Tomb" album recording sessions. It was unfinished and we revisited it this year to complete it. I think that it will stand out among our other tracks as somewhat unusual but we like this piece very much.

Cork seems to be a distant location, somewhere in the south of Ireland, away from Dublin. Is the vibe, the atmosphere of the city present in what you do?
If it is, then it is not consciously. I grew up in the country-side and that is what has influenced me most. Cork is a very grey place, as is Ireland in general. But Ireland, despite many of its less appealing qualities, is the place that makes me most happy.

What would be your dream-come-true tour line-up to be a part of?
We don't really think about such things. To be honest, every tour that we do is a great experience.

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