Saturday, 14 April 2012

Altar biography and reviews

This is another nearly forgotten band! What a damn sin, as everyone who’s into Swedish death metal must listen to ALTAR as it is one of the best demo bands of the early 90’s! Unfortunately ALTAR never managed to get an album out, it was quite difficult to get any of their recordings (but that changed in 2012, when the compilation CD was released). Only the split CD/LP with Finnish CARTILAGE – a must to own – could have been found sometimes on Ebay for ridiculous money. ALTAR’s history starts in Kumla already in 1988, but their first names were SUFFOCATION and EPIDEMIC, finally deciding to take WORTOX, as all previous monikers have been already taken by other bands. WORTOX played more thrash metal oriented music (TESTAMENT, DARK ANGEL, FORBIDDEN were the main influences) but with some touches of death metal (DEATH, SEPULTURA, NIHILIST / ENTOMBED, GROTESQUE etc). The members have been Jimmy Lundmark - guitar, Perra Karlsson - drums, Magnus Carlsson - vox, Mattias Olsson - guitarand Magnus Ernfridsson – bass who were all school friends. Enfridsson was later sacked (he later died tragically in a motorcycle accident in 1990) and Magnus Carlsson took the bass over. WORTOX did just one demo tape, “The Unknown”, in 1990, in limited quantity of 100 copies and recorded at Moch Studio in Kumla on December 17th, 1989 (produced by Peter Franzen and Wortox and mixed by Per Karlsson). In 1990 the name was changed again, this time for ALTAR. The same year Perra Karlsson was kicked out of the band – because at that time he also joined SUFFER. He’s been replaced by Frederic Johansson. At that time other members of ALTAR were Jimmy Lundmark and Magnus Carlsson – bass, vocals. This new line up settled quite quickly and started to work on debut demo, which finally has been recorded in two days of 1991 at GORYSOUND Studios with Dan Swano (who also did keyboards and backing vocals on "Decapitated" track). The title of this demo was “No Flesh Shall Be Spared”. The music of ALTAR has already transformed into classic Swedish death metal sound – aggressive, tight, dirty and ravage. This demo got some great responses and soon was also officially re-released on tape by American WILD RAGS Records (1992, 300 copies). Such a good demo didn’t remain unnoticed and soon the band got a chance to enter the studio again, but only to record songs for split CD / LP.  Their material called “Ex Oblivione” was released by DROWNED Productions as split with Finnish CARTILAGE as “Ex Oblivione / The Fragile Concept of Affection” CD / LP. The recordings for it were done at GORYSOUND Studios again in June 1992 by an unchanged line up. It’s definitely the best of all ALTAR’s material – also the only one, which in their short career was released on CD / LP – and surely it’s another worthy piece of death metal, although the production fails a bit on it. At that time ALTAR also recorded an unofficial rehearsal tape. Limited to 10 copies it was used as a rehearsal tape for their upcoming split LP. It contained songs from both demo and split LP, as well as songs called “Dawn of Eternity” and “A Message from the Grave” which weren’t recorded anywhere else. In 1993 another material has been recorded. Three songs were recorded for promotional purpose in a poor conditioned studio in their hometown Kumla, but the tape wasn’t spread much and not many people had a chance to listen to it (this tape was recorded in the line up: Frederic Johansson (Drums), Jimmy Lundmark (Guitars), Magnus Carlsson (Vocals, Bass) and a friend from Kumla, who helped the band at that time Fredrik Eriksson (Guitars)). At that time the music became more and more melodic, in AT THE GATES style and this playing was continued on another promotional recording, which was taken in 1994 with completely new line up: Magnus Carlsson – bass, Fredrik Johansson – drums, Jimmy Lundmark – guitar, Mieszko Talarczyk – vocals, Johan Bulow – guitar (from a thrash metal band FALLEN ANGEL). Rickard Alriksson from NECRONY did some backing vocals there. Unfortunately it was the last recording ALTAR did as soon the band ended its life. Most of the musicians of ALTAR carried on playing in different bands thought. Jimmy started to play in a band called INTERFEAR – with an old ALTAR drummer, Perra! But the band split up in 1995 as the guys couldn’t find (??!!) a vocalist or bassist. Perra had tremendous metal career though – he participated in many recordings, played in such great bands as SUFFER (1990-94), DION FORTUNE (1995-96), IN AETERNUM ("No Salvation" and "Dawn Of A New Aeon" CD), T.A.R. (1997-2000), SERPENT, BERGRAVEN, and nowadays he’s blasting in great bands NOMINON and NIFELHEIM. He did also MOULD zine between 1990-94. Johan Bülow played also in FALLEN ANGEL and WOLF. Mieszko Talarczyk formed – now legendary –grind core band called NASUM (with Anders Jacobson from NECRONY), which recorded several highly influential albums for RELAPSE Records, he also had his own studio called Soundlab. Unfortunately Mieszko died in tsunami in Indonesia in 2004.

No Flesh Shall Be Spared (demo 1991 / WILD RAGS – MC 1992, 300 copies)
Recorded: Recorded in GORYSOUND Studios 3/4 August 1991. Produced by Dan Swano & ALTAR. Mixed by Dan Swano & ALTAR.
Recording line up: Jimmy Lundmark – guitar, Magnus Carlsson – bass, vocals, Frederic Johansson - drums
I could speak for hours on the subject of old Swedish death metal scene. I absolutely love it and surely can say it’s my best time, scene and sound among all metal subgenres ever. No denying, Sweden has spawned so many great bands at the time between1988-93 like no other place in the world and I just happen to like most of them. I don’t care if the band X sounded like ENTOMBED and band Y had a song like DISMEMBER, I loved it anyway. Part of my Swedish fascination is about the fact that it hides many bands, which have never been popular, never released a full length or sometimes not even 7”EP – but despite that, their music is a classic and killer stuff. So many bands stayed underground and split up without a good contract, even though their music was just a damn crushing death metal machine, that it’s a shame! Just think of NIRVANA 2002, ADVERSARY and EVOCATION... And ALTAR!!!!!!!! Although ALTAR did appear on a split CD / LP, but they never really got that much attention and didn’t put the full length out. Were they any worse than some of their countrymen?? No, not at all. It may have been a matter of unluckiness or simply the scene at the time didn’t need another death metal band from Sweden, especially when black metal warriors started the arsons and murders – and occasionally also released some cult albums ha, ha! “No Flesh Shall Be Spared” is great example of a demo that survived the test of time and even 20 years later it is a blast (from the past)! It’s been recorded in 1991, so at the moment I’m writing this review it’s been 20 years since then. But the sound / songs from it are still able to seriously kick arses of many metal maniacs. It definitely does kick mine! There are four brilliant death metal songs that take influence from both the European as well as the American schools of death metal gut ripping. Some stunning riffs and catchy tunes are accompanied by US brutality and it’s obvious these guys loved BENEDICTION and MASSACRE, (old) DEATH and AUTOPSY equally to ENTOMBED. Many riffs seem like they’re totally familiar to me, like I’ve heard them before, but I somehow cannot recognise the band that could have been playing it earlier – especially the opening motif for the title song sounds like a “déjà vu” to me! Damn, I just know it, every tune and drum part in it, but I don’t know what other band could have been playing it (BAPHOMET maybe??)! Especially “Severed On the Attic” is AUTOPSY-influenced track, with its awesome riffs and gory atmosphere and some faster riffage in the middle part. Anyway, all songs are played rather in catchy mid tempos, based on simple but moshable riffs, while to vocals are really guttural and creepy. With occasional horror intros (from “Hellraiser” for instance) altogether we get a great portion of gory death metal in old school vein, with great sound and songs. I just cannot say anything wrong about that demo. So what that it isn’t innovative and original? It’s got the feeling, great riffs and dark atmosphere. I love to listen to it and that’s what matters most. Recommended cult stuff!
Best song: “No Flesh Shall Be Spared”
Final rate: 80/100

Rehearsal 09-02-1992
Recorded: unknown
Recording line up: Magnus Carlsson - vocals, bass, Jimmy Lundmark – guitar, Frederic Johansson – drums
I haven’t got much info about this rehearsal… I don’t know whether it was officially released and spread among the maniacs. Also I don’t think it has a cover, so I can only guess what was the line up that has recorded it – probably the same that later this year (1992) recorded the tracks for ALTAR’s split LP with CARTILAGE. I know that there were probably about 10 copies of this demo, it probably have been used as a rehearsal tape for that upcoming split LP. Quite intriguing then that it’s been found 17 years later. Luckily I’ve got the song titles, so I know what I listen to. And so we get here a title track from the demo, three songs that later we’re recorded for the split with CARTILAGE and one cover song. That cover, “Dawn of Eternity” is originally performed by MASSACRE and so no wonder the band had so many influences from them. It’s been played without the vocals though, rather average version, but it’s just a rehearsal, so no worries. Old song “No Flesh Shall Be Spared” is played without much re-arrangements… This time I can it has the vocals, so I can say that on that demo rehearsal they’re quite hidden under the guitars and drums, but still as a rehearsal recording it doesn’t sound so bad. Actually it sounds really well. As for the other songs… Well, all three – “A Message From the Grave”, “Lifeless Passion” and “Nothing Human” – have found their place on the split LP. So they’re good songs, although these are only their pre-recordings. It’s cool to listen to them anyway, despite the raw sound. “A Message From the Grave” was really changed though, it basically sounds like different song.
Best song: “No Flesh Shall Be Spared”
Final rate: 80/100

ALTAR / CARTILAGE - Ex Oblivione - The Fragile Concept of Affection (Split LP 1992 – DROWNED Productions)
Recorded: Tracks A1 To A5 recorded in 8-tracks at Gorysound Studios between 20-23th July, 1992; Tracks B1 To B5 recorded and mixed at Welmu Studio, Vaasa in 8-tracks on March/April 1992
Recording line up: ALTAR - Magnus Carlsson - vocals, bass, Jimmy Lundmark – guitar, Frederic Johansson – drums, Dan Swanö - guest keyboards, backing vocals; CARTILAGE - Mikki Salo – vocals, Mikko Hannuksela – guitars, Harri Huhtala – bass, Kai Hahto - drums
Review: Nowadays this split LP is truly a classic of old school death metal, one which is rare and very hard to find. But its musical content says everything about it – we deal here with two great traditional death metal bands. First is the Swedish ALTAR, who slaughters the listener with five new tracks (plus two of the demo on a CD version). The band performs classic death metal, which takes much of the credit from some British bands (early PARADISE LOST), but this time I have an impression some of these riffs are slightly more melodic when comparing them to the demo, and thus this way ALTAR has more similarities to bands like early AMORPHIS, EXCRUCIATE and DISMEMBER (just listen to “Lifeless Passion” – this is traditional Swedish death metal song!). But the opening song “Nothing Human” is just fast neck-breaker, with really uncompromising opening part. Surprisingly the slower motif has some keyboard parts, which give quite a horror / creepy result. “Lifeless Passion” and “A Message From the Grave” are infectiously melodic, with those “The Karelian Isthmus” like riffs that stick in your head instantly, but the second of these songs is much faster than rest of “Ex Oblivione”, while the first of these two reminds me also some old Polish bands like HAZAEL, ARMAGEDON and BETRAYER. I’m surprised to hear the short piano part in the mid part of this track, but from the other hand it fits it well. The opening motif of “Decapitated” also has piano – and it sounds awesome when it accompanies the heavy slow riff. It re-appears also in some other great slow patterns, just for a while, but it’s enough to show that ALTAR really had some great and unusual ideas. It all sounds great within this classic death / thrash skeleton. You know, it’s not something particularly original, there were many other bands, which have been using something like that on their albums and demos, but ALTAR has done it in a great way and have many killer riffs. Their material has a high quality, and such song as “Ex Oblivione” only confirms it. This is really fast and aggressive as hell track, with some stabbing riffs and cool vocals. At the end (on CD only) ALTAR also serves us two demo tracks (and we can notice a development in ALTAR’s style – for little less brutal and surely much faster and more melodious), so yeah – definitely their part of the split is worth to listen to. And what about CARTILAGE… Well, before I got a chance to listen to their part of the split I didn’t know much about the band. But I also enjoyed their songs. Their style is a bit different. To some point, they carry the tradition of many other early Finnish bands like PURTENANCE, ABHORRENCE or ADRAMELECH. Their death metal is massive, brutal, often slow but mostly mid paced, but they do have also plenty of faster motives and sometimes even some more melodic riffs. This is a style, which also reminds me the American legends called BAPHOMET. So, definitely great stuff! CARTILAGE also managed to put some surprising stuff in their music though, like the wonderfully epic opening for “Afterlife Sorrow” for instance with the keyboards accompanying the slow majestic riff. “Blessing In Depth” is another different song, basically instrumental, very slow and epic, with keyboards all over it, so the final result is really dark and majestic. But all in all CARTILAGE performs pretty standard death metal. And I do enjoy it quite a lot… But from both I would rather pick ALTAR as the better band. Definitely though this is one of my favourite split albums ever, truly a cult stuff, pity then it is so damn expensive!
Best song: “Ex Oblivione”, “Afterlife Sorrow”
Final rate: 90/100

Dark Domain (1989-1993) (CD 2012 – KONQUEROR / PULVERISED Records)
Recorded: various
Recording line up: various
Well, this definitely was one of the most anticipated demo compilations for me. Altar – although isn’t as known as many of other early 90’s Swedish death metal – definitely belongs to my favourite acts of that period and I can truly say that their demo as well as the split LP with Cartilage are milestones of the genre. So I guess it was only a matter of time, when someone was about to decide to compile them all on CD – and hopefully there will also be a vinyl version in the future. Here it is then! A nice CD titled “Dark Domains 1989-1995”, unleashed upon us by Konqueror and Pulverized. As always, when buying such compilations I hope for two things: one – to get nice, fat booklet with lots of old photos, demo details, bios, etc and two – to get as much old recordings as possible, hopefully also some unreleased material. Well, in case of “Dark Domains” the booklet is OK. There are quite many archival photos of Altar, which is great, there’s also a short biography, but I miss maybe more details on each of the recordings that are compiled on this CD. There are no covers of the old demos or split LP, there are no detailed recording information, there are no lyrics… Well, definitely it could have done better, but anyway the booklet is OK, at least it’s got something at all (unlike say Excruciate double CD, which hasn’t got anything!). As for the second of my wishes, I got exactly what I wanted. Although the music is not putted in the proper order (it should start with the oldest and finish with the last recordings), but I’m happy to find here two demos of Altar, which I have never heard before, which is just bloody awesome. Well, I have now all Altar recordings on a CD – cool! (although sorry, but they’ve skipped the rehearsal recordings from 1993, which are also quite good, in my opinion). The album kicks off with the “Ex Oblivione” material from Altar’s split with Cartilage and I can truly say this is their best material. Those five tracks are classic death metal tunes, which are in many places dominated by infectious melodies (think of Amorphis and Epitaph for instance), but despite that the whole material do not lacks aggression at all. It still is damn violent and neckbreaking piece, with some hints of British death metal acts, as well as the likes of Messiah, or Polish Betrayer and Hazael. This is great stuff, really, well worth to be recommended to everyone, who’s into the old death metal bands, not necessarily the Swedish ones. The moody production of Swano’s Gorysound also deserves your attention I think. Then “Dark Domains” offers five tracks, which I have not heard before and thus they were one of the special reasons why I wanted to purchase this CD. You know, while “No Flesh Shall Be Spared” demo was quite popular, then the two demos from 1993 and 1994 were completely unknown, at least to me. My impression on them is slightly mixed though, I’m afraid. The band have lost some of their aggression and atmosphere that were present on the first demo as well as on their split material and instead opted for more and more technical and complex, and melodious playing, which started to take annoyingly a lot of influence from At the Gates and very early In Flames. But I don’t want to say that I don’t like those two demos just because they become too melodic (because they’re not too melodic, they’re more melodic than the previous efforts, but that’s all). It was rather the fact that well… the quality of these materials is not that good, simple as that! Especially those 1994 songs are terribly mediocre. From 1993 demo I can at least say that there are some cool parts, when Altar plays more technical stuff and there are even some doomy influences in “Floodgates of Emotions”, and so the demo is OK, even though its production is very flat and again I am not 100% impressed by those sudden tempo changes or technical parts. And then 1994 material is just emotionless, I don’t like anything of it, it seems like the band was going in circles with their riffs, they dropped the aggression and everything I liked on their earlier recordings and just went for mediocre fusion of At the Gates and “Lunar Strain”. Even the vocals of Altar’s vocalist on that demo (who was Mieszko Talarczyk, later in Nasum), were not that good. Two things surprised me though – one was the fact that the compilation lacks one song from 1994 demo, I don’t know why the label didn’t put it here. And another was the melody in “Violent Acts”, which – trust me – is purely taken off „The Last of the Mohicans” movie. At first I wasn’t sure, but then I started to listen to it carefully and bang! I’ve recognized it, as this is one of my favourite movies ever and I also love the soundtrack from it!! Hehe, nice, don’t you think? Anyway, I’m also quite happy that soon when these two average 1994 songs finish I can listen to “No Flesh Shall Be Spared” demo, which is just a crusher and one of my favourite Swedish demos ever. The music is brutal, dark and massive, it’s not 100% style wise, as it’s not so melodic, it has many riffs, which you can compare to some American bands or European titans like Benediction and early Gorefest and there are even some more thrashing parts, which is I think just fuckin cool, really!
Final rate: 70/100

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