At The Altar Of The Horned God – Heart of Silence

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Artist: At The Altar Of The Horned God
Album: Heart of Silence

Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Release Date: March 3rd, 2023
Location: Madrid, Spain

I don’t even know where to begin with this one, apart from saying that Heart of Silence is currently my topic choice for AOTY for 2023 thus far. Madrid’s At The Altar Of The Horned God has really outdone themself this time and created an absolute work of art.

The album’s overall sound and style is very hard to pin down and put into words. My best attempt would be to call it atmospheric avant-garde black metal with elements of ritual ambient, gothic and folk. I saw a comment on the album’s Bandcamp that said “If Arckanum and Dead Can Dance decided to tour together and ended up partying at Andrew Eldritch’s house,” and I honestly don’t know if a sentence can sum up this album better than that. I would probably throw in some influences from Urfaust, Arketh, Woods of Ypress and Arcturus just to cover all my bases though. Having said that, the album really doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve heard and possesses a sound all its own.

There’s a couple of key elements that make it so unique and impactful, the first of which I would argue are the vocals. There’s a wide range of varied vocal styles on display here and they span across multiple genres. You’ll find truly sinister barked black metal vocals alongside powerful theatrical and borderline epic gothic clean vocals. These clean vocals could easily work on a symphonic black metal release, but their delivery on the album gives them a melancholic undertone, while allowing them at times to present a truly epic delivery. The harsh vocals on the other hand have a real bite to them and just enough echoed effects to give them a mystical and at times creepy energy. It’s the back and forth between the two styles that makes them so impactful and ensures that the album never feels stale for even a second. I also have to add that both are performed to utter perfection and rank among some of my favorite vocals so far this year.

The other element that makes the album so powerful are its mystical and borderline ritualistic influences, undertones and energy. Certain tracks in particular feel as if they’re part of some ancient nature worshiping ceremony, calling on ancient spirits to bestow their gifts upon the practitioner. The first that comes to mind is the opening track Listen, which only features 12 lyrics “Stone, leaf, bone, shadow Listen to the trees, listen to the hollow” that are ritualistically repeated over and over again for four and a half minutes. This is easily one of my favourite songs on the album due to its hypnotic nature and the catchiness of its melodies. The drums in particular are a standout here, as they repeat a simple but captivating beat continuously.

On par with the opener for my favourite track on the album is Chthonic Summoning, which features my favourite clean and harsh vocals and what I think are awesome lyrics. The song has a strong ritualistic essence to it, this time not as much in its repetition and melodies, but in its lyrics and themes. There are ritualistic moments too, where repetition of chants and invocations occur. To me this is the most epic track on the album musically and its elevated even further by its lyrics:

I offer Thee this sacrifice

O Trophonios, Lord of nightmares!

Attend my prayer and come

O Trophonios, Granter of visions!

Approach and come to this sacred rite

O Trophonios, Slayer of doubt!

And in your wisdom, please hear me now

O Trophonios, Herald of the Night!

Klûthi mou! Klûthi mou! Klûthi mou! Klûthi mou!

Cool Water from the Earth below

Bright Fire from the Air above

Klûthi mou! Klûthi mou! Klûthi mou! Klûthi mou!

Let opposites unite

So that all our Arts be purified

I stood in Thy presence at the Oracle

I was blessed by Thy wisdom and marked by it

I fulfilled the vows I made

So hear me now and grant to me Thine aid

Klûthi mou! Klûthi mou! Klûthi mou! Klûthi mou!

Bless me with your essence

So that I may delve deeper into Thy mysteries

Cast Thine shadow over me

So that the light of Truth Shines on my work!


Another favourite of mine is Heart of Silence, this is a more traditional black metal track in parts and features killer, raw black metal vocals. However, there’s a segment around the middle of the song with some of my favourite clean vocals on the album. In a truly epic and mystical nature they belt out:

Tonight He shall awake

Staring into my unconscious mind

Laying waste to nightmares

Pushing light into my being

The Door of Moonlight is open

Its ivory threshold inviting

It beckons me in

A mirror reflection painted black
I also have to give some serious praise to God Is in the Rain, its not every day that you hear a cover song that is that much better than the original material. Don’t get me wrong, I love Suicide Commando as much as the next guy, but this version of the song is just so goddamn good. It has a folkier element to it that adds a whole new level of depth, and the vocals are performed so well here, both clean and harsh. If you don’t know the song, I suggest listening to the original first HERE to be able to make your own comparison. This was also an unexpected choice of a song to cover, particularly in the context of the rest of the album, but it works so well that I am so glad that they chose it.

Finally the closing track Severing Light is a perfect end to the album, as it really feels like a culmination of all of the music that came before it, as if it was all building to this. It comes across as a summary of the album sound wise, particularly with its use of the same drum beat as the opener in parts. The harsh vocals on the song are particularly emotion and raw here too, having a huge impact on the listener. The cleans balance them out well and add that sense of mysticism once again.

Overall this is one hell of an album, so good in fact that I can’t actually tell you how many times I’ve listened to it since coming across it. It’s been on regular rotation, at least once every day or other day. It just has such a unique quality and sound to it that you can’t get it out of your head. If you enjoy black metal but want something refreshingly original and innovative then look no further.

Listen to and order the album:

Bandcamp

At The Altar Of The Horned God – Heart of Silence




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