Features Altar of Plagues – Burn It Down

Altar of Plagues – Burn It Down

Blistering.com: Do you intend for the album to be some type of “soundtrack to the apocalypse?” I know a lot of bands use that phrase, but it works here…

O’Ceallaigh: Not as such… I think even “the apocalypse” can serve as a sort of fantasy word within the metal scene. The sentiment of White Tomb goes beyond that, it describe a mass disconnection with the earth. The sort of “apocalypse” White Tomb describes is very much real and happening, you can speak to any person and they will understand what is it. The notion of an “apocalypse” of war and terror is perhaps exciting to some people.

The concept for the album came about somewhat unintentionally. Immediately before going to the studio, I spent a week engaging in a landscape conservation project. I had never before merged my studies/work with our music but as we were recording, ideas from the previous week continually arose and naturally became a part of the recording. White Tomb is a very honest representation of these feelings.

Blistering.com: White Tomb for you, stands for Planet Earth. Was the concept written as sort of a “last salvo” for the planet or do you intend for it to serve as a wake-up call for mankind?

O’Ceallaigh: It is not our intention to “awaken” people or inform them of such issues. We create and share our music and people may take from it what they will. But it is important to us that we present our sentiments and feelings as well as the music itself. This is the first time we have ever used such deeply personal sentiments in our work and previous writing were quite abstract and impersonal.

I’m sure that the plant can endure many more hundreds of years of this sort of activity, but there is not a question that it is a far more horrid place than it should be. We have not yet reached the apex, but we are certainly not far form doing so. I do not expect the masses to change however as that would be naive. Perhaps the greatest difference an individual can make is in how they choose to live and what they will or will not be a part of.

Blistering.com: There is a lot of descriptions about “skyscrapers collapsing” and so forth and in America, a great deal of our infrastructure (bridges, old buildings, etc.) are wearing down and need replaced. Is this happening in Ireland? Any solution to this?

O’Ceallaigh: Our cities a not even comparable to those of the U.S or other larger countries, so I cannot say that we experience the same sort of urban decay as such places. Urban growth is an inherent part of the human progression. Many countries have adopted a policy of delegating areas for infrastructural growth, and this works to a certain degree. Ireland is severely lacking in that regard and there is little or no thought put into urban or infrastructural planning. As a result, we have housing randomly scattered throughout the countryside in what should be untouched lands. These problems could be easily resolved were the relevant parties interested in remediation of such issues.

Of my favourite scenes in this country are the stone walls that litter the hills on the west of our Isle. These hand made stone walls, which are hundreds of years old, stretch as far as the eye can see and still stand perfect today. I find a sort of sweet irony in that these handmade structures can almost outdate any modern infrastructure and still stand as monuments to an ancient craft.

Blistering.com: Speaking of wake-up calls, do you think the current economic turmoil will force people to go back-to-basics? Return to more natural and honest settings?

O’Ceallaigh: I wish that was the case but it is unlikely as we have all been spoon-fed for far too long and so we rely on our modern crutches. But it is possible for anyone to adopt a more natural lifestyle. I don’t even think one needs to escape the modern world in order to return to a more natural setting. If we could return to a more natural and honest mindset, not one of greed and short-sighted ambition, we would begin to see a much different place. Perhaps in this current turmoil we may reach a point where people may need to provide for themselves in a more urgent way than in past years.

Blistering.com: What pisses you off more: the sight of greedy, big-headed bankers grappling for a larger payout bonus, or cherished landscapes being populated by urban blight?

O’Ceallaigh: I think that wealth and population growth are somewhat intrinsically linked. Urban growth is a complete necessity as populations increase, it simply must be. Of course people see the opportunity to exploit peoples needs and we see high cost housing developments on what was one preserved land.

Blistering.com: I see some similarities on a lyrical front between you and Wolves In the Throne Room. To that end, do you try to look to any outside bands for influence?

O’Ceallaigh: There is likely to be a certain degree of overlap between our sentiments and theirs. For the past five years I have been studying ecology, conservation, and environmental sciences at university. Of course Wolves in the Throne Room are known for their similar beliefs. As this is part of my daily life it has a profound influence on my worldview and as a result influences our writing and music. As well as this Dave [Condon, bass] and I were both raised in rural Ireland and this is a lifestyle which is close to our hearts. My family is somewhat self-sufficient in our lifestyle, growing our own vegetables and powering our home using wind, sunshine or wood allowing us to have our own independence and control over our lifestyle (using the very modern technologies of a wind mill or solar panels, of course). But rural life is certainly nothing unusual or unique here in Ireland.

With regards to our lyrical influences, I am inspired by the writing of names such as James Lovelock (The Gaia Hypothesis), EF Schumacher (Small is Beautiful), and Aldo Leopold (A Sad Country Almanac). As for music inspirational, I find the most compelling acts to be those that ‘practice what they preach’ so of course we respect Wolves in the Throne Room and I also very much enjoy Glass Throat Recordings and all associated acts (Blood of the Black Owl, Fauna, Rhur Hunter). Also our friends in Thou, Leech, Velnias and Fell Voices also share similar beliefs. Perhaps all of these bands can be viewed as being part of the same artistic “movement,” rather than as being of separate communities.

Blistering.com Why is that so few bands – metal or not – don’t take such a hard-lined stance on current world affairs like you?

O’Ceallaigh: I find a lot of bands like to boast about how pissed off and angry they are but never address they reasons why. Im sure many extreme bands of any genre exist just to create music for a particular genre they enjoy rather than for any other purpose. I personally find that there is no resolve in such actions, and I find it a shallow exercise to perform this music as entertainment. I would happily join a party rock’n’roll group for that purpose, but the depth of “extreme” metal is what I find most appealing at this point in time.

Bringing personal or “hard-lined stances” into a group can usually have disastrous consequences, but what we are talking about is applicable to anyone, anywhere. We certainly have no political agendas, we simply address the Earth in its most free and primal form and this is something relevant to anyone. As I said, everything we discuss is very honest and not forced into our music.

Blistering.com: For the album cover, what do you intend for it to represent? The colours are oddly disturbing and again, a little apocalyptic…

O’Ceallaigh: Dave handled all of the artwork and he has the artistic skill to design artwork that is visually representative of the albums concept. The cover image sums up the albums sentiment entirely; steel structures standing upon ancient hills. It captures the sort of contrast of the ancient and the modern described in the album. Such sights are, for me, some the defining images of this era.

Blistering.com: Can this be pulled off live? It’s so multi-faceted, it must take a dedicated approach to perform it admirably, right?

O’Ceallaigh: Yes it can all be performed live. Mood and dynamic always translate quite differently in the live setting and for that reason we often rearrange tracks for the live show. Like our recordings, we also want the live show to work as one entire performance.

Blistering.com: Finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2009?

O’Ceallaigh: Some more touring in Europe later in the year. We are currently organising U.S tour dates and all going well, we will be there in September and October for an East coast tour. I believe a vinyl release of Sol and White Tombis also on the cards.


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