Released: 2014, Memento Mori
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
BEETLEJUICE! BEETLEJUICE! BEETLEJUICE!!!!!
Okay, so listening to Altar of Betelgeuze won’t summon Michael Keaton, nor his delightful misfit character from the namesake film. Disappointing as that may be, what it will elicit is the feeling of “hey, their DARKNESS SUSTAINS THE LIGHT debut is a decent doom/death album”.
My first impression upon listening to DARKNESS SUSTAINS THE LIGHT was that the band was taking a page out of the Acid Witch/Mournful Congregation playbook; heavy, traditional doom riffs layered atop with uber gnarly death growls. But like anyone who’s seen “the Crying Game” will tell you, first impressions can be deceiving. By the time you break the seal on track #3, “The Spiral of Decay”, Altar of Betelgeuze begin to show their cards. The tunes integrate a little more melody and second vocalist Olli Suurmunne starts to belt out some clean vocals a la early Amorphis. It makes for a nice dynamic, offsetting the gurgling heaviness with some brighter moments. But as the album progresses forward, it sounds like there’s a bit of an identity crisis afoot with the band. The tunes run the gamut between southern fried stoner grooves to grandiose, gothic doom compositions, and when it works it’s good stuff. But the death growls tend to sound forced and out of place on the more accessible tunes, as do the clean vocals on the more grittier material. I realize it’s in poor taste to criticize a band for stretching their artistic legs and for trying different things, but the lefts and rights across DARKNESS SUSTAINS THE LIGHT kept interrupting the vibe and gave me the impression that the album was less a complete concept and more just a collection of songs the band wrote, recorded and pressed onto CD.
Petty? Maybe. But like I said, when it works, it’s good stuff - particularly the closing 17 minute title track. It’s a massive effort that hints at what Altar of Betelgeuze is really capable of. I’d be interested in hearing what the band does next, particularly if they can really focus on developing more of their own identity and honing their writing skills. But for the time being, DARKNESS SUSTAINS THE LIGHT is still a respectable debut and Altar of Betelgeuze is still a respectable band worth checking out.