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At The Altar Of The Horned God - Heart Of Silence review

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Band: At The Altar Of The Horned God
Album: Heart Of Silence
Release date: March 2023

01. Listen
02. Closing Circle
03. Heart Of Silence
04. Chthonic Summoning
05. Guardian Of The Threshold
06. Anointed With Fire
07. God Is In The Rain [Suicide Commando cover]
08. Severing Light

“Stone, leaf, bone, shadow Listen to the trees, listen to the hollow,
Stone, leaf, bone, shadow Listen to the trees, listen to the hollow”
So is one beckoned At The Altar Of The Horned God.

The debut release from this Spanish one-man project, Through Doors Of Moonlight, received a very warm review from Apothecary when released in 2020. I must confess, I was less warm to it at the time; however, ambitious genre crossovers such as these can be challenging to process on first listen, so the release of At The Altar Of The Horned God’s second album offered an opportunity to re-evaluate that first album while also exploring how the concept has been developed on Heart Of Silence, which also comes courtesy of I, Voidhanger Records.

That concept, for those that missed Through Doors Of Moonlight upon release, is a combination of ambient neofolk and black metal, and it was only while ruminating on this that I realized how similar this combination is to what Nishaiar delivered on 2021’s Nahaxar, a record that blew me away, which begs the question of why I might not have clicked so strongly with At The Altar... on first listen. Perhaps the divergence between Nishaiar’s African folk and the more Nordic-inspired approach of ATAOTHG’s mastermind Heolstor played a role, but I think perhaps the different types of black metal employed were more significant. Instead of Nishaiar’s blackgaze tendencies, Heolstor opted for a rawer black metal approach on Through Doors Of Moonlight that very much embodied the 90s Norwegian spirit.

On Heart Of Silence, that Nordic lineage is still very much audible, but I do feel like the black metal takes a less primitive form this time around. The metal is also perhaps more extensively integrated into the neofolk this time around; while there’s clearly a droning ambient element in the core of this record, it feels closer to being a folk metal record this time around, albeit decidedly not of the Ensiferum variety. Opening track “Listen”, which features only the lyrics quoted in the beginning of this review repeated in a sinister chant, is built on the pounding beat of ritual drums, but the riffing that takes over the song later on, initially starting off with sharp edges, subtly incorporates melody as the track progresses. “Closing Circle” similarly pairs tribal drumbeats with ominous black-tinged droning mid-tempo riffing; in neither song is there an outburst of full-blown aggression, instead restraint feeding into the imposing ritualistic atmosphere that Heolstor is creating.

That is immediately discarded on the title track, which opens with a flurry of blasts and tremolo; however, compared with Through Doors Of Moonlight, the production feels ever so slightly more polished, and the riffing a tad more melodic. That melody is augmented by the more refined singing this time around, which can deliver memorable melody with real authority. The harsher vocals aren’t always quite so convincing (there’s some odd ‘growls’ in “Chthonic Summoning”), but the spoken word, chanted, and sung vocals all work nicely.

On a re-listen of Through Doors Of Moonlight prior to writing this review, I did feel more fondly towards it than I had at the time of release. At the same time, though, I do think Heart Of Silence is arguably a progression from it, both in terms of improving the core components and also in refining how they integrate with one another. The only track I’m not entirely convinced by is the cover of Suicide Commando’s “God Is In The Rain”, which works well enough in the chorus thanks to the quality of the singing, but which feels slightly flat otherwise compared to the original with the dungeon synth keyboards used here. For those that feel likewise, the lost sense of momentum is nevertheless restored with the final song “Severing Light”, which reprises the style of the first two songs but arguably develops the black metal side further than either of those did, with some memorable tremolos near the end.

Given the overlap in musicians and fanbases, it’s surprising that black metal and neofolk of this type aren’t brought together more often; while Through Doors Of Moonlight was arguably a slightly rough prototype, with Heart Of Silence, At The Altar Of The Horned God provide solid evidence that this is a winning formula.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 7
Originality: 8
Production: 7

Written on 02.03.2023 by Hey chief let's talk why not

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