Metal is one of the coolest genres to me when it comes to looking at the influences behind the album’s creation. Pop culture, politics, classic literature, all kinds of different roots help shape metal. Italian power metal band Altair have taken that to heart with their new album, Descending: A Devilish Comedy. Drawing on their home country hero, Dante Alighieri, and his classic Inferno, their concept album is a delve into the depths of the human mind. So the question is, do they breakdown the gates of Hell? Or is this Altair’s mortal sin.
What makes concept albums so interesting to me is the theming. Power metal Dante’s Inferno is an easy sell, and using it as a lens to evaluate the human mind and the fears within? That’s a solid premise. I want to see what questions their music can raise and what demons they make me confront. And there is no denying the talent in Altair. The guitar breakdowns dance up and down the scales, drum and baseline provide a rock solid foundation, and the vocals have the power behind it to really sell the mood. Just looking at the skill set on display shows how much potential they have. But that’s the problem, it’s all potential. Altair never fulfills the promise of an epic metal decent through Hell. Despite all the obvious talent, everything is safe. Songs follow a bland structure of verses and breaking at the same point each time for the safe, uninspired solos. While the solos are well performed, they had no identity of their own. There were a number of times where I had to check my shuffle thinking it had switched albums on me. No track really told me what Altair’s unique sound was. It is just power metal in the most stereotypical fashion I could see.
The fact that they did so little with the album theme is the real sin. You’d think an album called “Descending” would do something reflective of that in the tracks. The first song might have been higher and lighter and each subsequent track would get darker and heavier, you know, descending. But each song stays with the same tempo and atmosphere. Nothing feels like they took any risks or found a way to embrace the dark themes they were going for. Being so safe with an album themed around fear in the mind is sadly ironic and pulls the whole project down.
Albums like this are hard to talk about . When they’re just average, expected, there’s nothing to get really annoyed at and nothing really to praise. I was excited to experience what Altair promised and ended up feeling cheated. Nothing set apart any song or section; instead it all became a bland unsatisfying bowl of oatmeal. I can’t give it a two because there is real talent in Altair and there very well may be those who enjoy it for its safe familiarity. I want to see them step beyond the conventional and make something that only Altair could have made. But until then, I can’t see myself returning to this album any time soon.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Manowar, Firewind, Iced Earth