Everybody has their preferences when it comes to their metal. Maybe you’re a doom guy. Or grind. Or death. Or even one of those super weirdos who exclusively listens to a single metal band. And they’re out there. But what’s the best is when a band can mesh and incorporate numerous sounds into a single unified voice. Take a dash of doom’s guitar tone with death’s drums, blackened vocals, and a little post-metal songwriting, and you’ve got yourself a healthy serving of Barren Altar.
San Diego’s Barren Altar makes some incredibly interesting music and it all starts with this confluence of sounds. It’s the best cherry picking you can find. It’s like the band found the metal tree in the orchard and just grabbed what they liked. A little touch of doom stylings? Yes, please. Perhaps you’d like an aura of impending doom? Oh, the blackened fruit is on the other side of the tree but take what you like. And while you’re there, you should grab the post-metal sparseness and depth. That’s the best fruit on the tree. The metaphor could go on, but it’s pretty well done.
Entrenched in the Faults of the Earth not only takes those aspects of these varying subgenres, but they also implement them in perfect ways. They can slow down their riffs while driving beats are neatly laid underneath. It’s almost confusing how the song can feel like it’s going somewhere quickly while appearing at a snail’s pace. It’s this dichotomy that makes this record so enjoyable and mysterious. There is a kind of harmony in the aural conflict. It’s almost as though that conflict is what’s holding the record together.
There are also moments where they let up on the aggression and let a sparse melody carry. “Submerged” is a bit of a standout track in that regard. Clean guitars completely awash in reverb weave in and out of harmony together that’s sparse enough to let the melody breathe while also still allowing the blackened atmosphere to stay and sit on you. It helps that even this clean melody can still play with signature black sounds like dissonant chords even at slower tempos.
That being said, the real exemplar of the album is the opening track, “Nexus of Grief”. The intro of heavily fuzzed out guitars playing a slower weaving harmonic melody plays with a signature doom sound. But it doesn’t stick around long before the wall of sound blackened quick strumming riff accompanied by those beloved blast beats and distorted blackened vocals. When it finally comes to a bridge section, there’s that oddly slow riff accompanied by the same blasting drum rhythm. It makes everything seem more deliberate. They are in control of this unusual rhythm and they know what they’re doing. Then it slows down the whole song again for the spacious harmonic melody. It’s these peaks and valleys constantly interweaving that keep you interested. You want to see where the song could go next, and it’s always an interesting move.
Barren Altar has been slowly honing this sound since 2014’s A Monument to Endless Suffering. Their doom-infused hostility has been slowly building the oppressive atmosphere they create to become this interesting blend of sounds. More and more bands are beginning to mesh these sounds together, but there are few bands that do what Barren Altar is doing. It continues to show the creativity and originality in the genre, and hopefully, this record continues to foster that.
Entrenched in the Faults of the Earth is available now and can be purchased via Barren Altar’s Bandcamp.