Review: Nine Altars ‘The Eternal Penance’

Traditional epic doom band Nine Altars have arrived on the scene looking to make a big noise with their thirty-minute plus, three-track debut this spring. Formed in Durham in the UK, the band are notable for featuring the driving force of Kat Gillham, a name that should be familiar to those with a discerning knowledge of the scene.

Nine Altars 'The Eternal Penance'

Having graced numerous bands such as the doom-drenched Blessed Realm, the death/crust metal of Winds Of Genocide and Uncoffined as well as the mammoth sounds of Thronehammer, and despite being busier than the Energiser Bunny, the powerful front woman has embarked on a new project to create doom music in its truest and purest sense.

Recruiting Nicolete Burbach from Uncoffined and Charlie Wesley from Enshroudment on guitars and Jamie Thomas on bass to join her as she handles drum and vocal duties, The Eternal Penance looks to carve out slabs of sorrowful and anguished epic doom to, in their own words, usher in the ‘New Wave Of British Heavy Doom Metal’.

Steeped in classic influences, the album begins with the title track, a thirteen-minute salvo that is awash with the pomp and circumstance that has all the hallmarks of the funeral doom genre. The lone guitar starts with an abrasive sawing edge but quickly breaks into a luscious ringing clean guitar tone as the drums roll in with a crisp and deliberate opening fill. Kat’s voice also uses a commanding, clean range that cuts through with mournful lamenting, showing off the impressive scope of her vocal prowess.

The lyrics, downbeat as you would expect from the genre, talk of the anguish of existence and the burden carried through ‘every single, every single moment’ but are imbued with a sorrowful beauty that this type of music is able to capture when in full flight.

Nine Altars are naturally bound to bring to mind the likes of Candlemas and Pallbearer with their sombre, plodding and yet elevating chord progressions. Much of the instrumentation feels like it owes a respectful debt to pedigreed and classic traditional bands such as other classic ‘80s era ’New Wave of British’ luminaries Iron Maiden, without ever feeling like they are raiding someone else’s riff closet.

the melody anchored by huge, cavernous, deliciously doomy riffs and soaring vocals…

There are many highlights for fans to pick out, the deep rich hum of the low end as the gradual build and release shifts through the movements, the winding guitar solo and the tragic sense of despair as Kat sings, ‘Only death will bring my release’.

The Fragility Of Existence continues this mid-paced march with a harder sounding edge and choppy rhythm which managed to sound more anthemic and almost rolls by in a swaying, more head-bang-inducing pace. The stretching of the melody anchored by huge, cavernous, deliciously doomy riffs and soaring vocals will be manna from a gloomy place, just in sight but out of reach of heaven for fans of bands like The Obsessed or St Vitus as it bleeds over the ten-minute mark, making it another epic-length journey in itself.

The final track Salvation Lost is the punchiest and shortest track on the album and canters off at almost twice the pace of the previous offerings and sounds like the most owning to Steve Harris’ crew on the surface. Retaining the classic ‘80s metal sound, it also preens with the prog leanings of middle to latter era Maiden as the previously dirgy downbeat pace is given an injection of virility. Feeling like the suffering (lyrical, metaphorical, not listening experience) of the previous tracks has imbued the band with strength, here they rise Phoenix-like from the funeral (doom) pyre as they meld Celtic flavours, crunching riffs and historic guitar pull-offs to walk with a swagger as they tell the story of heaven and hell.

It is a testimony to the work on display here that in just three tracks, Nine Altars manage to make The Eternal Penance feel like a much longer album than the run time would suggest and yet leave the listener wanting more. By the time the last crashing chords ring out, it is easy to feel disappointment that it is over already.

As musical genres continue to split by incorporating more variants, there has to be something said for a band that can distil their style from the original sound, yet still bring something new and worthy to the table. Nine Altar prove on this release they are an extremely capable and listenable band who are just getting started, and fans of that traditional doom metal sound should be lapping up their debut.

Recorded over the winter of 2021/2022, The Eternal Penance is available on CD from Good Morning Records and vinyl via Journey’s End Records.

Label: Good Mourning Records | Journeys End Records
Band Links: Facebook

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden