Moving Forward
CoC discusses life and death with James Kelley of Altar of Plagues
by: Johnathan A. Carbon
In this brief yet informative interview, James Kelley discusses Altar of Plagues' newest and most personal effort to date.

CoC: How has the reception been for _Mammal_ as well as earlier records -- in Ireland specifically? I do not think Ireland is known for its extensive metal climate. Am I wrong with that notion?

James Kelley: Ireland is a bit of a funny one for us, as we actually seem to be more popular elsewhere. I'm not sure exactly why that is, but such is the case. But the response that we have received from Ireland has always been positive and supportive, and that has been the case for _Mammal_. Considering the size of the country and its population, there is quite a lot of extreme metal here. There has always been a lot of variety, we have everything from grind to doom and noise. Ireland has been somewhat financially crippled due to an economic recession, and that has affected many aspects of society. Overall, people have less money to spend, and as such show attendances suffer for this and can be very hit or miss. As Ireland is somewhat lost at the edge of Europe, media is less likely to come looking for you and one has to be more proactive in getting others to hear their work.

CoC: Your sound has a spectacular low end. Was it a conscious decision to place emphasis on the bass and drums as much as the tremolo picking?

JK: Thanks. It is something we have spent a lot of time trying to refine. Using low frequencies at fast tempos can be difficult. Sonic density is a very important aspect of the sound for us. We have always wanted to have certain degrees of audio shading (for lack of a better word) in our music. The reason we work with the dynamic that we do is that it can be easy to become immune to heaviness / weight when there has not been any exposure to lighter sounds. Touring has helped us to gain a better understanding of our equipments and how we craft our sound. I think that with time it is also easier to refine your 'rig' so as to achieve the sound you are looking for. With _Mammal_, everything you hear comes straight from the equipment, rather than relying on production methods for achieving this sonic weight. I have never actually had a problem with studios, in that they give you the ability to achieve sounds / layers that you might not in the live environment, but with _Mammal_ we were naturally inclined to keep more of a live energy.

CoC: What was the recording like for the new album, as opposed to earlier full-lengths?

JK: We took a far more natural (if one can call the process of recording natural) approach, in that we avoided excessive post-production and allowed the microphones to capture the sound as we intended it to be. In a way, the microphones just happened to be there while we recorded. We wanted there to be a tangible energy, and for us, the best way to achieve this was by keeping our drive high as opposed to things such as tedious multiple takes. We took a very personal approach to the vocals in particular, which we recorded in one take. We did this by taking the time before recording to get into the emotional state from which the lyrics were created and agreeing to keep the take, warts and all. It would have been entirely dishonest for us to perform such personal lyrics over multiple takes, in which you're essentially acting out the emotions rather than feeling them. We also utilised homemade percussion and field recordings to add a more personal dimension to the music. Each field recording can be traced to a time and a location, and that adds a very personal element for us. I think that it is important to retain something private within the work, even after it has been shared with others.

CoC: Does _Mammal_ continue in the lyrical themes seen on _White Tomb_?

JK: _Mammal_ is extremely personal, whereas _White Tomb_ served more as a narrative or commentary on the world as we perceived it then (not that our views have changed). _Mammal_ deals with the subject of death, specifically my death, and the death of those important to me. The subject matter arose in my life in a natural way, I honestly cannot say exactly why it did. Altar of Plagues has always served as a means for us to creatively express a certain part of our personalities and emotions, and the music was written in tandem with the lyrics. I personally belief that music is one of the greatest forms of personal expression, and each piece of music we create allowed us to express a part of ourselves at a particular place in time. When the work is complete, it allows us to move forward.

CoC: Your website recently explained one of the songs on _Mammal_. What is the story behind the confusion with "When the Sun Drowns in the Ocean"? What is it and what did people think it was?

JK: A lot of people seemed to interpret the audio as being something Eastern. It is a vocal performed in Irish and we wish to uphold the integrity of the piece and its context within the music, so for that reason we decided to inform people of its origins so as to avoid further misinterpretation. The audio is that of an old Irish funerary custom known as "keening" (from the Gaelic "caoineadh", "to cry"). This was a vocal lament normally sang over the corpse of the deceased by an elderly woman in improvised or pre-composed meter. The woman's hair would be un-brushed and let hang down over the corpse to symbolise the disarray of death while expressing emotions of grief, loss, bitterness and love. Reference would be made to the deceased person's genealogy, deeds and character, and curses could be uttered if there was an identifiable person to blame for the death. The custom, although probably of ancient origin, can be dated to the 8th century, and remained an integral part of Irish tradition up until the beginning of the 20th century, when centuries of opposition from the church finally succeeded in abolishing it.

CoC: _Mammal_ comes with two very different sets of cover art -- one for Candlelight and one for Profound Lore. Why the split with artwork? Was this your decision or per request of the label? How did you come in contact with collagist Vladmir Vacovsky and painter Timo Ketola?

JK: This was a choice made collectively between ourselves and the labels. It was not any sort of a marketing ploy to sell extra copies (we detest such things), it was just a simple means of keeping both releases distinct from one another. We decided that we would choose two very different artworks, but wanted both to be entirely representative of the albums concepts. I am extremely pleased with the outcome. The photograph used for the Candlelight edition was captured by Daniel Sesé, whose work I came by when looking at some photography. We contacted Ketola as I am a huge admirer of his work and I was confident that he would be more than capable of creating a fitting piece, which we feel he did. I like that both covers are quite ambiguous and are open to interpretation. However, both artworks were created (in the case of the Profound Lore editions) or sourced (in the case of the Candlelight Edition) after the album was complete, and as such the lyrical content was in mind throughout this process. I think that the representation of each cover becomes somewhat more apparent when one reads the lyrics to _Mammal_.

CoC: Favorite metal album of the past five years?

JK: It varies from day to day, but one that comes to mind is Overmars' _Born Again_. It is one of those albums that I get completely lost in every time that I listen to it.

CoC: A personal literary recommendation regardless of style or content?

JK: One of my favourite books is John Steinbeck's "To a God Unknown". It was one of Steinbeck's most poorly received books at its time of release, and differs a great deal when compared to his other work. I find the story so colourful and captivating. It is also an extremely dark work, especially considering its time of writing.

CoC: What is on the horizon for Altar of Plagues? I believe you made mention of a split with Year of No Light.

JK: We have a number of shows coming up later in the year, which we will be announcing soon. There is a split with Year of No Light to be released around September time. This features an unreleased track from the _White Tomb_ recording sessions.

CoC: Well, I very much thank you for your time, and good luck with the future.

(article submitted 6/26/2011)


ALBUMS
10/13/2013 D Lake 9 Altar of Plagues - Teethed Glory and Injury
6/5/2011 J Carbon 9 Altar of Plagues - Mammal
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