What a night.
At some point, you start going to way too many concerts and despite your best efforts to avoid jadedness, it happens. You can call it whatever you want, but the fact is that a lot of shows that once would have rocked your existence now feel uneventful and you receive less joy out of them. On the other hand, when you feel that something is special, odds that it actually was are higher.
Then you have a band like Altar Of Plagues that decides to call it quits after three wonderful records only to decide to play live a year later. Sounds like another boring “reunion” tour, right? Wrong. They bluntly refused all festival or big venue offers and decided to go for smaller places which would not offer any profit. That right there should be the first sign that we were about to witness something special, the second being the actual venue. De Onderbroek is a basement part of a legalised squat in Nijmegen whose capacity does not even reach 150 people. Cheap beers, an unlikely smokey atmosphere and overall one of the friendliest places to watch a show in The Netherlands (that the sound is usually quite good for such a place doesn’t hurt either).
The memorable Altar Of Plagues show would have been enough to make the night. That both Malthusian and Galg impressively delivered only made it all the more special. The former are part of the tour and their drummer JK has got to be an exhausted man every single night of it, pulling a hard hitting double duty with Altar Of Plagues as well. With a demo and an EP under their belt, the quartet showcased why it is that “MMXIII” and “Below The Hengiform” are enough to turn them into one of Europe’s most interesting black death bands. However, to fully plunge oneself into the atmospheres of the Irish required longer than one could perhaps expect, courtesy of the unbridled volume and general heavy harshness displayed by Galg just before.
During that first show, the duo of guitarists/vocalists O and Tchannelled their inner O’Malley/Anderson to engulf the room in pitch black, feedback laced loudness. Perfectly backed by M‘s method drumming, their riffs either slowly crept in a drone-like fashion or mercilessly pummelled the audience with a strain of doom not that far from what Conan do, just better as far as we are concerned, generally feeling both bleaker and more creative. The vocals are concerned ranged from the echo-filled screams the aforementioned Brits are famous for to a more traditional black metal/drone type of harsh screaming, including some rather impressive Fell Voices like microphone-less howls. On their second song, O dropped the guitars and screamed his guts out in what was probably the closest we have ever been to what we imagine (and infer through videos available online) Alan Dubin to sound like in a live setting. The set was pretty much all made up of unreleased material and if the Nijmegen based trio can somehow capture on the recording what they did on De Onderbroek, then we are all in for quite a treat.
Impressive as the opening acts had been, there was still to come the reason everyone was there, the band that is no more, the mighty Altar Of Plagues. “Teethed Glory And Injury” had shown a much more concise side to James Kelly‘s compositions, a feature which was ever-present during their performance. Perhaps the main point of division amongst fans concerning that record is the more pronounced electronic and mechanical feeling the songs have, a divide most likely put to rest for all presents. “Mills” might have opened the show with samples and drums, but as soon as James Kelly and Dave Condon‘s guitars kicked in and all throughout the following“God Alone” (and later on with “Twelve Was Ruin”) and “Scald Scar Of Water”, everything sounded a lot more organic than on record – akin to what happened Locrian‘s Roadburn show last year.
Without any talking bits – only an appropriately simple “thank you” was spoken by Kelly at the end – the songs were played in a relentless fashion, with the interplay between the more expansive material of “Mammal” and the shorter stuff from “TGAI” giving an extra dynamic that a more conservative band would not be able to provide. Though “Neptune Is Dead” and “All Life Converges To Some Centre” were the natural individual highlights of the night, their merits were undoubtedly enhanced by the relentlessness of it all and by standing side by side with remarkably different songs.
When someone decides to play smaller places and forsakes profits along the way just to reach the ambience and the audience they were seeking, it’s a good sign they are doing it out of sheer passion. It was exactly that passion that Altar Of Plagues displayed in Nijmegen, translated as intensity and commitment to the performance, and it is because of it that the break up makes sense. Creating with this band without it being a work of passion would go against all that James Kelly has done with it.
We do not know if this was the last time we saw Altar Of Plagues. If it was, then they left us a hell of a memory, if it wasn’t then judging by it will only return on their own terms. Until that hypothetical day, sign us up for whatever it is Galg and Malthusian will do in their future