Band: Left Cross
Album: Upon Desecrated Altars
Label: Profound Lore Records
Genre: Death Metal
Release Date: November 10th, 2023
For Fans Of: Antichrist Siege Machine, Archgoat
Left Cross is a young war metal band out of Virginia signed to the always-interesting Profound Lore Records. Upon Desecrated Altars is their second full-length release. They share a drummer with Antichrist Siege Machine, an excellent act that you should check out if you haven’t already, and approach death metal with a similar bludgeoning, direct philosophy. Left Cross aren’t doing anything new. They try to sharpen a proven approach and to simply out-aggression their peers. I find myself with some contradictory thoughts about this album.
There are some immediate issues with Upon Desecrated Altars. Left Cross do not write good riffs. While this isn’t necessarily the point of the album, or the genre, the premier bands can find spectacular moments within the dregs of music. Not so here. The riffs and the general musical direction sound the same from beginning to end. Similarly, the rest of the songwriting and the somewhat stifled production don’t work for me. Fans of the album would probably call it focused.
Left Cross do a solid job at layering dense bile on top of their already claustrophobic sound whenever they want to kick into another gear. The end result is music that sounds binary: sometimes this is grumpy and mean, and sometimes this is very grumpy and mean. The ending of “Unhallowed Oaths” is one example of how this works: Left Cross are chugging along, then the drums drop out. When they come back in after a false start, they sound more aggravated and are accompanied by faster thrumming and multiple layers of vocals doing their thing, and Left Cross keep up their new energy until the end of the song.
Despite Left Cross’s laudable ability to elevate their sound on a dense album, this release just sounds too static. Upon Desecrated Altars walks in the door, gives you thirty-four minutes of aggressive and tight noise that all features just about the same songwriting, speed, and philosophy, and then leaves. Having bland riffs wouldn’t be as bad if there was variety. While some musicians such as Paysage D’Hiver or Voidsphere can turn a static sound into something interesting, Left Cross don’t show this ability.
I have plenty of grumpy statements to make about this record, and there will be more soon, but I keep putting on the album and nodding along with it. When reviewing a truly bad record it becomes a struggle to keep putting on the music to try to drag something out of it. With Upon Desecrated Altars I genuinely enjoyed every listen. The songwriting doesn’t work, and usually that would be a death sentence. But Left Cross have given their album such immaculate vibes and atmosphere that listening is still a fun experience. Upon Desecrated Altars is the closest I’ve come to finding war metal comfort food.
By “vibes,” I mean that Left Cross do everything except songwriting well on Upon Desecrated Altars. To choose a spot more or less at random, the two-minute mark of the title track should be boring. The riff is nothing, the vocal cadence is the same as it has been for the rest of the record, the drums are just doing a simple and repetitive blast beat with an occasional fill, and the bass is faintly rumbling somewhere between the kick drum and the guitars without doing anything interesting. However, the vocal snarl sounds great and adds to the moment. The bass completely fills its space and helps the claustrophobic, dark atmosphere. The guitars play with bite and lean into boring riffs with energy. The drum fills work better than they should. The band plays together effectively and becomes more than the sum of its parts.
One question that keeps coming up is why Antichrist Siege Machine works where Left Cross doesn’t. Besides the obvious genre similarities, the completely unnecessary minute-plus opener on both Upon Desolated Altars and The Purifying Blade, and the overlapping drummer, both bands approach war metal the same way. After going back to listen to The Purifying Blade again, I found that album to be far more aggressive. Antichrist Siege Machine also has a happen of stretching their riffs farther by varying the contexts of their songs, whether through dropping the blast beats for a passage, varying the rhythm, or even just varying things up with some riffs in a different tonal range. Left Cross just absolutely pummel the one thing they do until it turns to mush, and then they keep pummeling it until you turn off the album.
Upon Desolated Altars is a frustrating album to review, because I wanted to either like it or dislike it more than I did. Left Cross’s second album ended up being something that I had no problem listening to, but no problem casting aside and no real affinity for. I recommend this to people who scoff at the idea of “melody” and to people who are too cool for the new Vastum or Shylmagoghnar albums. Left Cross executed their ideas well enough that I enjoyed the Upon Desolated Altars experience. I just wish those ideas were better.
- The Blood Of Mars
- Deity Of Molten Iron
- Burning Raids
- Upon Desecrated Altars
- Unbinding The Covenant
- Inexorable March
- Unhallowed Oaths
- Pyramid Of Conquered Skulls
- Celestial Wound