Review: Upon the Altar – Absid Ab Ordine Luminis
Upon the Altar offers their prayer to the most vulgar gods of the genre’s pantheon. Filthy, echoing, detuned, and vile, Absid Ab Ordine Luminis will greatly please them, borrowing from the whirling wretchedness of Teitanblood and the rancor of Black Curse. If you know why that’s good, you can stop reading here. You already know you’re going to like this album. If you don’t know why that’s good, that’s ok, too. I gotta fill up a webpage somehow and can think of few more pleasurable ways to do that than to wax on about cavern-core.
Absid Ab Ordine Luminis takes after the more truculent catacomb citizens—think Teitanblood, not Impetuous Ritual. Putrefying the deal are the pummeling drums of war metal and a vocal reverb dial cranked just counter-clockwise of “absurd.” Under those endlessly-echoing retches, Upon the Altar batters out oozing riff after oozing riff. Whether charging through “Crown of Weakness” or inching beat-by-beat across “Mortuus Est Rex,” the band projects a near-absolute shadow. Squawking, atonal bursts of guitar punctuate the songs, veiled by a sort of aural mist.
The appeal of this music is not so different from the appeal of a small-print bumper sticker or a neighbor’s half-heard conversation. We’re naturally curious, taunted by incomplete patterns, drawn to conspicuous gaps. When art exploits our curiosity through intentional confusion, obfuscation begets fascination. At its best—in intense, whirling squalls of echoing groans or eruptions of frantic, tuneless guitar noise—Absid Ab Ordine Luminis is fascinating. In between the gaps it’s carried by pure, pummeling intensity. But once the album has worn in a bit, one realizes that Upon the Altar don’t have much to hide. Absid makes all the right moves, and it’s electrifying for the first few spins. But its most successful moments—the plinking keys in “Mortuus Est Rex,” the ritualistic drumming that closes “Hapax Legamenon”—rely on familiar effects, sounds that apt listeners will recognize and place in albums that came before.
Absid Ab Ordine Luminis can’t reach that overwhelming inconclusion of the great records it takes after, like Teitanblood’s Death and Grave Miasma’s Odori Sepulcrorum. That depth is so difficult to achieve, but it’s ultimately what makes a record like this stand the test of time. After every listen, some part of those great records record is still unclear, still doesn’t quite make sense. There’s just enough pattern gone to prevent conclusive resolution. After spending a while with Absid Ab Ordine Luminis, I don’t feel that draw of the unknown.
Even then, I do feel every drum beat, every chasmic chord, and every echoing sneer. Upon the Altar hasn’t made a classic, but they have made a damn nasty death metal album.