Quite what Altar Of Oblivion consider to be a grand gesture of defiance is anyone's guess. If there is an official scale of defiant gestures, then this album registers fairly low on the chart. It's not quite as tame as a middle finger held up (and shielded from view by a hymn book), it's also nowhere near organising a terrorist cell and coordinating a series of atrocities.
Judging from the sound that this Danish bunch knock out, they register around about the mark labelled "thought about a dirty protest, went to my bedroom to paint the walls black and played basic Metal instead."
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Of course, the band themselves have some quite lofty ideas and to be fair, occasionally they reach them, just not as often as they should. After all, their first album, 'Sinews Of Anguish', was a concept album based on the horrors of the First World War, so it's not as if they're beyond stretching themselves.
Then there are the vocals of Mik Mentor, which are undeniably Altar Of Oblivion's trump card. Seemingly teleported in from a time when an almost operatic style was essential in Metal (think Candlemass, Steve Grimmett, and even dear old Brucie) it is his dramatic overblown style that lifts an otherwise rather lumpen album and makes it a reasonable listen.
With Mentor leading the charge they tread an unsteady path between old-school Metal and Doom. Yet there's a fundamental problem with the album that stems from a lack of inventiveness in the riff department. Much of 'Grand Gesture...' could, and probably has been, thrashed out in any number of rehearsal rooms around the world and then discarded for being a bit 'stock' (to borrow from Lars Ulrich's vocabulary for a moment).
There's nothing wrong with a chugging riff or slowed down progression, but all too often it sounds as if the band has hit a wall and just settled on something, anything, because it fills a gap. The opening riff of 'Where Darkness Is Light' is a perfect case in point, a chugging cast off that should have been butchered at birth and stamped on for good measure.
It does get a little better however, thanks to some heroic vocals for the chorus and a fine mid-section where the doom takes over fully, complete with atmospheric gothic keyboards. Additionally there's some quite splendid dual guitar work here too which proves that the band are not exactly slouches when it comes to technique.
'The Graveyard Of Broken Dreams' similarly suffers from a lack of invention at its core, however it does at least possess a chorus that is a bombastic triumph. Then there's the closing section that borrows successfully from Maiden's heyday when they were pinging out drawn out epics like 'Hallowed By Thy Name'. An equally classic 80s Metal moment can be found nestled at the heart of 'In The Shadow Of The Gallows' as the guitars trade off while Mentor gives it his all.
When they turn their hands to straight up power Metal they're in their element, but when married to the plodding doom aspect of their repertoire, it just doesn't click. It's a dichotomy that sadly threatens to derail the album at almost every turn.
'Sentenced In Absentia' is perhaps the most significant victim of this. Kicking off like a tortured goth tune, before falling back in to the plodding doom riffs once again. Mentor tries to keep his theatrics in check, but it's not too long before he's screaming along like a slightly depressed Michael Kiske and the band begin lean towards power Metal once again.
Wrapping up with the inevitable balladry of 'Final Perfection', Altar Of Oblivion seem to have given up on the idea of doom altogether, and it suits them just fine. Hopefully next time around, they'll drop it completely. It's a shame that the album is so conflicted because there's clearly talent here that shines through in the more Power Metal aspects, but it is frequently obscured by hamfisted riffing.