Altars of Grief – Iris

I’m not sure I’m really able to do this album justice.

How’s that for a start? Iris by Canada’s Altars of Grief is a staggeringly powerful album, that draws me back regularly. It is a harrowing journey, emotionally wrenching, and leaves me feeling wrung out when the final notes fade.

So powerful is this record, I regret my deep desire to go back and listen to it again.

Art is difficult to define. For me, a key factor is purpose. I don’t know what the authorial purpose of Iris is, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t have one, and a powerful one at that. If nothing else, this is music that forces me to reflect on life, on my place in the world, on the impact others have had on me, and the small impact I may have on those that surround me.

I realize this is all sort of vague and nebulous. I’ll try to be a little more concrete. Altars of Grief play a blackened style of doom metal. There are blast beats, tremolo picking, harsh vocals, and vicious riffs. Yet, they are also so much more. We have moments of beautiful melody, quiet contemplation, and tenuous peace.

The clean vocals are excellent. At times very reminiscent of the late David Gold, from Woods of Ypres, at others, they are more soaring and melodious. The contrapuntal harsh vocals run the gamut. We have blackened shrieks, hardcore screams, and even some low, bone shaking death growls. The vocals are used to perfect effect, clean when the song calls for it, harsh when necessary. The guitars follow the same pattern. There are extremely heavy and crushing passages, that often move deftly into crystalline moments of tranquility. Keys and organs punctuate the guitars, never one overwhelming the other.

In many ways, Woods of Ypres is an excellent starting reference point for Iris. Yet this never feels derivative. Many of the same hallmarks are present, but Altars of Grief owns these moments so thoroughly that they become theirs.

Iris tells a story. A story of loss, grief, addiction, abandonment, and death. I’ll leave it to the individual to seek out the specifics. It is sufficient to say that this is a dark record. It doesn’t leave one feeling hopeful, but it does end with a certain sense of peace. And with music this powerful, and a subject matter this dark, peace is about the best one could hope for.

I really do find myself struggling somewhat with what to say about Iris. Musically, it is an amazing record, full of heavy blackened moments, slow, plodding doom moments, and plenty of beautiful, quiet passages. Lyrically, well, I’ve touched on that enough. As a father, it is a harrowing album. Emotionally, this albums devastates me. It is such a complete experience, and so stunningly cathartic, that when final strings fade, I can’t help but feel as though I’ve been through the wringer. This is proof positive that music has power and emotional weight. Iris, while not for the faint of heart, is an amazingly powerful, beautiful, and emotional experience, from first note to last.

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