by R.S. Frost
Consuming, encapsulating, dizzying, claustrophobic, torrential… these are all words one can use to accurately describe the musical output of Spain’s ALTARAGE.
Hailing from the autonomous community of Basque Country, Altarage have made quite the name for themselves in the underground death metal community, and now they are raising their hooded heads into the mainstream’s line of sight with their latest album, ‘The Approaching Roar’.
I connected with the band’s anonymous representative in order to gain some insight into where this music comes from, how it is conjured and his thoughts on the propulsion the band has been subjected to following the release of their third album.
You have had quite a busy four years, seemingly having not stopped or slowed down since the first demo and leading all the way up until this point. What’s it like looking back and seeing what you have been able to achieve?
- I’m not sure what we have achieved, maybe that our name is more well known. Since the beginning we just write and play the music we want to hear, releasing albums and playing live when receiving serious offers, that’s the main thing, and we continue to do it so we’re on the right track, occupying our time until the end comes knocking at our door.
A year following the release of the ‘MMXV’ demo, Altarage delivered their debut album ‘NIHL’ in February 2016. I had heard rumours of a “Spanish PORTAL” and did my due diligence to seek out this much-revered offering. As soon as I heard ‘Womborous’ I immediately acquired a copy of the album and soon realised that, whilst the comparison is somewhat understandable, this was a very different beast than Portal indeed.
How do you feel about that comparison getting thrown around so often?
- I can see things the same way I see things from other bands. But, seriously, people getting on that comparison, I think that they rely more on the fact that we have our heads covered with hoods than on the actual music. But we don’t actually care, we like Portal, as well as many other bands.
Digesting the music on ‘NIHL’ and subsequent releases is an experience akin to being drowned in black mud, or perhaps tar. There is a constant maelstrom of noise coupled with precise and horrific guitar work, smashed together by blast beats and short moments of respite.
The accompanying artwork to this audible nightmare is what waits for the listener when the bottom of the pit is reached, and will ensure very little sleep is had after taking in this album as a whole.
What is your songwriting process like and where do these terrifying yet mesmerising sounds come from?
- The only thing I can say about that is that we let the music flow through us, without forcing it. We have a way of writing and working behind the scenes, of course, but that’s something that only concerns us.
Can you tell me about the title, themes and artwork for NIHL at all?
- No, we hate to depict every detail about the music, lyrics or artwork. There’s a lot of work behind it; once the album is released it is the listener’s turn to make something out of it. It’d be very cheap to go into every detail, chewing up everything to get the curiosity satisfied. Just put the album on, read the lyrics and get into it. And smoke a fat one if you will.
After ‘NIHL’ had piqued the death metal underground’s interest, ‘Endinghent’ was let loose in October 2017 through SEASON OF MIST. One thing that became clear was that Altarage was not interested in straying from their chosen path, and rightly so. This album is yet another journey into the depths of dark imaginations, accompanied by, once again, artwork that suggests a touch of Lovecraft, and further nightmares.
How did you find the response to ‘Endinghent’ as more people were made aware of your art?
- As usual, there are people that like one album more than another. Endinghent had a different production so sonically it was way different than NIHL. To make a copy of an album is not in the plans, although there are people where that's exactly what they want. As you say, more people were aware because of the first record, and the reviews were positive so we were able to play it live last year throughout Europe.
Having never been to Spain I did some research into your hometown and discovered that
Bilbao is quite the city. Not only is it the largest city in the Biscay province and the Greater Basque region as a whole, but this region is also run as an independent and autonomous community, even having its own dialect that is still used today.
Basque Country is also no stranger to the ebbs and flows of civil war and social upheaval. Once home to the Paleolithic inhabitants of Western Europe, the region was later wedged between feuding Franks and Visigoths in the Middle Ages and would go on to act as the battleground for the War of the Bands.
In the early 17th century the Pyrenean valleys would witness the long-lived Basque witch trials under direction of the Spanish Inquisition, Navarrese Royal Tribunal and Diocesan Tribunal.
In more recent history, after Franco’s dictatorship ended, a new statute was designed that led to the creation of the current Basque Autonomous Community in 1978. Bilbao currently stands as the de facto capital of Basque Country.
Given the rich history of the region, I’m very interested in your views on the place you call home and how the past has shaped the current iteration of the area.
- Make no mistake. Your birthplace is just an accident and being proud of your homeland is nothing but just another pathetic and futile attempt to make some sense out of all the madness surrounding us.
We like the place we come from and in a way its industrial past and its defiant and belligerent spirit has definitely had an influence on what we do and who we are, but we did not choose any of it. Pride implies effort, skill and some sort of achievement. There’s nothing of that in being born in a certain place at a certain time.
In early 2019, Altarage unleashed their third album in three years, ‘The Approaching Roar’, with backing from Season Of Mist once again.
What was the drive behind The Approaching Roar?
- The same as the other albums we have released so far. To make the album we want to hear; a crushing, cold and unmerciful collection of songs.
The release of this album has seen the band take on a new trajectory of international recognition and praise, and a steady amount of touring to come.
- We’re working on live shows to play this album wherever we can. The touring cycle for The Approaching Roar is about to begin, with a few shows already booked for 2019 and more to come.
This interview is featured in the print edition of Inner Missive #2, alongside discussions with THY DARKENED SHADE, WOLCENSMEN, THE ANTICHRIST IMPERIUM, ART AS CATHARSIS, ALTARS, GRIFT, ADRIAN BAXTER, PRIMITIVE MAN, COSMIC PUTREFACTION, EMYN MUIL, GIGAN, BYRDI, SLUDGE, ULCERATE and ÖXXÖ XÖÖX.