It's so hard not to think of Michael Keaton's bugging eyes, corpse-painted face, and zany antics while listening to Altar of Betelgeuze. And once I start thinking of Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice I can't help but think about Geena Davis in Beetlejuice and then I lose focus altogether because I drift into Thelma & Louise and then The Long Kiss Goodnight, at which point you might as well kiss whatever I am doing goodnight. That's right, listening to Sludge Metal from Finland, which is probably the only thing that the deep south and Finland have in common. Aside from fried Twinkies, moonshine and hospitality, Sludge Metal is the greatest invention ever to come from the South and the fact that bands half-way around the world are picking up on the grimiest of genres is just plain awesome.
How well do Altar of Betelgeuze do? First off, change your name. Maybe it's difficult for Finnish Metal musicians to understand that all band names need not be Black Metal in nature, but this is not Black Metal at all, so all of us listeners are thrown for a serious loop, and some of us that are older and set in our ways, have a hard time getting past an incongruous name/genre conundrum. And when we encounter these anomalies can't help but daydream about super-hot actresses from the 80's. Second, fire your vocalists, but at the same time give the rest of the band a huge raise. Because of double duty, that approach wouldn't work, so let's just suggest that Matias Nastolin (Bass, Vocals) and Olli "Out" Suurmunne (Guitars, Vocals) stop singing and instead continue to churn out songs and riffs full of concrete, slime and assorted guts slogging through the Swamp Thing's garden, slowly chasing after Adrienne Barbeau, crap, there's that band name malfunction again.
I'm now on my fifth listen to Darkness Sustains The Silence and still struggle with the vocals and the band name, although fantasizing about any number of Heather's lessens the pain. Seriously, this is a kick-ass album, that if I didn't know any better could've been a product of Mastodon, Kylesa, Atlas Moth or any number of Sludge hall-o-famers. BUT, and it's a huge but, the vocals absolutely ruin everything! The growls are not menacing, but rather forced and generic. Proper Sludge requires growls that reverberate through your chest cavity dredging up memories of childhood skinned knees and scraped palms from gravely face plants in vacant lots. The clean vocals are no less impressive ranging from Ray Manzerek wannabe bass chants on "World Without End" to weak-ass biker grousing on "Steamroller" (Great song title though).
Here is the quandary, how do I rate, or even recommend, an album laden with contradiction? I find myself listening over and over, reveling in the muck inspired grooves while laughing at the comedic vocals, it's like watching an episode of American Horror Story, gory and gruesome yet firmly tongue in cheek.
2. A World Without End
3. The Spiral Of Decay
5. Smoldering Clouds Above Orion
6. The Approaching Storm
7. Out Of Control
8. Darkness Sustains The Silence