For the most part, the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t apply to metal. Sure, there are some very deceptive albums covers out there (Depresy’s A Grand Magnificence, anyone?), but for the most part, metal albums proudly wear their genres and themes on their sleeves. Colorful artwork with disembowelments and zombies and gore for death metal; black and white forests, demons, and pentagrams are common in black metal; vikings, ravens, and runes are hallmarks of folk metal; etc etc.
Altars of Sin’s Servant of Evil gives further weight to this claim. You’d be daft to expect anything other than filthy black metal of an album with black and white artwork of a virgin being sodomized with an inverted cross by the horned one on an altar. Further, you’d expect that it’s not going to be fancy, symphonic, folky, or anything like that. It’s going to be pure satanic black metal. Well, as it turns out that’s not quite what Servant of Evil is, but not far off at all. Altars of Sin plays some old school blackened thrash. That works both ways here in that it’s part of the albums charm, but also part of why it’s really nothing special.
Like I said, Servant of Evil contains fairly typical black/thrash metal, but nothing more than that. The low, bass heavy guitar work is very thrashy and is only rarely tremolo. It isn’t especially good, and other than the riffs on “The Bloody Stench of War”, it’s pretty forgettable. The bass generally accompanies the guitars and goes about its business unassumingly. The drumming is also pretty average. There are plenty of blast beats, double bass, crashing cymbals, and the occasional fill, but it never surprises or impresses. Kakorot’s vocals are the only part of the album that stand out on their own. I wasn’t a fan of the deranged shrieks at first, but they grew on me with subsequent listens. The sound quality is somewhat dirty, but not particularly raw or abrasive.
Twenty plus years after black/thrash’s founding, it takes something truly special to stand out amongst the thousands of releases. What Servant of Evil is lacking is that something special. It’s not lacking quality instrumental work or vocals or the addition of keys or anything like that; there are plenty of simplistic yet fantastic albums out there. What’s lacking is the emotional response that all good metal is supposed to give its listener. Whether it’s hatred, melancholy, or joy doesn’t matter, just that it evokes emotion. Servant of Evil certainly isn’t lacking emotion, that’s for sure. The vocals, frenzied guitars, and drums are full of hate and energy, but something is lost in translation from speakers to ears. Altars of Sin have plenty of emotion, but it just doesn’t quite reach the listener.
Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair with my description of the music so far. It’s largely forgettable but gets the job done. There’s nothing in the twenty minutes of this release that will offend or anger you, and there are a few times where everything comes together and works quite well like the riffs of “The Bloody Stench of War” and the disconcerting ending of “Hail Goat Lord” with female groaning and gasping along with bleating goats over guitar feedback. But these moments are uncommon and for the most part, Servant of Evil doesn’t excite. If it had been released twentysome years ago it would likely have become a cult classic. But sadly this is not the late eighties/early nineties. In 2013 this just comes off as uninspired. Perhaps a few more memorable riffs would have saved it. Perhaps more adventurous songwriting. As it is, Servant of Evil is pretty lackluster.