The inspiration behind Los Angeles doom-metal group Ancient Altar's first song set the tone for the band’s ominous vision of humanity’s destruction. The leadoff track to their 2014 self-titled EP, Tidal, was inspired by a camping trip guitarist Barry Kavener had taken to a beach in central California. Where most people see beauty in gazing out at the waves, Kavener saw something different.
“The song is about destruction via the ocean itself,” Kavener says. “It’s beautiful, but at the same time the ocean is completely brutal. When it wants to wipe you out, it’s going to wipe you out. You can’t control it.”
The idea that nature is fighting back against the mistreatment it has received at the hands of man is an easy one to rally behind. Especially as we were braving temperatures of 102 degrees on the morning we interviewed the band outside their Burbank rehearsal studio.
Ancient Altar’s sludge-laden doom assault is a hauntingly depressive take on a well-worn sound. Emerging from the ashes of their previous band, instrumental stoner-metal act Iron Mtn, Kavener and bassist/vocalist Scott Carlson are rounded out by second guitarist Jesse Boldt and new drummer Etay Levy on their first full-length record, Dead Earth, out this week.
Their newest work — which you can listen to below — sees Ancient Altar mastering the crushing doom template they laid down on their EP with songs such as ”Albion” and the title track. They also expand on that template by putting together two mesmerizing, 12-minute compositions, “Leader, Liar” and “Void.” Those tracks overflow with swampy yet catchy guitar riffage that channels genre greats such as Down and EyeHateGod.
Ancient Altar’s musical output is lent extra gravitas by the world-weariness of the band’s lyrical approach. The aforementioned inspiration behind “Tidal” merely scratches the surface on how bleak the band’s viewpoint is on what mankind is doing to the world.
“Even with all the warning signs and knowing what we need to do to change, in the end the world doesn’t want to change,” says Kavener. “It’s not hopelessness, but at the same time, there is a helplessness that there is really nothing we can do about it. I’m not an eco-terrorist or anything like that, but I’m all about letting the world get wiped out and start fresh again.”
“[We have] a pessimism of institutions in power,” Carlson adds. “I think about how in history these institutions that were seemingly permanent and would never end are now just rubble and stories you read in history books.”
The group’s obsession with humanity’s history of self-destruction drives one of the more punishing tracks on Dead Earth.
“I had been listening to a podcast called ‘Hardcore History’ about World War I,” Carlson says. ”It goes really in-depth about the catastrophic destruction, not just human loss. There are areas of France and Germany that were demolished beyond all repair. ‘Albion’ is about World War I and the environmental destruction it caused.”
Though it may seem so, Ancient Altar is not completely drowning in loathing for humanity. The band is encouraged by the growing doom-metal scene Los Angeles has birthed within the last few years. Other genre movements have come and gone in this city, but this current era is one of the healthiest for L.A. bands partaking in slower-paced doom, thanks to acts like Ancient Altar, as well as other evolving local acts such as Behold! The Monolith, Yidhra and Deathkings.
“A few years ago, a lot of bands were skipping L.A. on tours,” Carlson says. “I remember in Iron Mtn, we were playing these lackluster shows. We played a whole bunch at the Relax Bar in Thai Town and no one was in the room. There was just nothing to be had for anybody. I think there was a concentrated effort — almost an act of defiance — for local bands to join together with the mindset of, ‘You’re either going to take notice of us, or if not, then fuck you. We’re going to do this anyway.’ I’m really happy with what’s happening now.”
Ancient Altar's new album, Dead Earth, will be released tomorrow, September 1.