Alter is a trio named Robbie, Tyler, and Austyn hailing from Baltimore, Maryland. Their first album, Embers, was released in 2016 and their first EP, False Dawn, was released in 2015. Clearly a busy band with a strong work ethic, the band is about to release their second album entitled Pendulum on April 28. Their brand of shoegaze moves from moments of languid pulses to explosive noise walls ala Whirr. This is rock infused shoegaze with great song structures wrapped in fuzzy walls of angst.
“False Mirror” begins with a bright, trilling guitar with the low rumble of bass. It’s a pensive moment and deceptive, given the listener an almost silent moment that will be disrupted once the rest of the band kicks in. When that happens, the fuzzy, dense wall erupts and the cymbal-heavy drums contribute to the wash of sound. The vocals are awash in reverb, crying out deep in the mix as they struggle to be heard above the tumult. The band hits the bridge and slows to a lumbering pace, reflecting the sort of struggle the song seems to be conveying throughout. The track seamlessly blends into “Momentary Life” with glistening guitar tones and slow, careful percussion and bass. This becomes accented with small, sped up moments. The vocals linger, slow and ghostlike in the mix as the aggression of the instruments begins to build and become more and more dense.
“Pendulum”, the titular track, doesn’t quite swing, as that would be contrary to the band’s sound, but there is a very deliberate, metronomic tempo to this piece. Crashing cymbals meld with fuzzy guitar and bass while melodies sit in the dense layers. When the vocals come in, the density lets up and guitars sing out brightly. This, of course, gives way to the wall of sound once again. If there is anything I get out of this album, it’s a sense of anguish and it’s communicated viscerally. “Inner Eclipse” begins with an almost metal/post-rock aggression ala Pelican and it’s huge. This quickly changes into a groovy, fuzzy bass laden piece that gets one’s energy up. Then, the fuzz fades a bit and the track breathes a little as the vocals come in. As “Inner Eclipse” comes to a close, the band ramps up to full-throated noise walls, especially on the part of the percussion. Guitar lilts and wails as the drums pound.
“The Storm” begins with a feeling of foreboding. It’s a more pensive song, although it has moments where the band rises and falls in terms of volume and aggressions. Although, even in those louder moments, the pensiveness of the song remains. It’s a balancing act that the band performs brilliantly between emotive explosion and quiet, dreadful expectation. “Lost Instinct” pounds with great force, plodding a slow, almost lethargic drudge that has soaring guitar over the melancholy march. The vocals seem even more ethereal here as they rise up in reverb drenched anguish. There is a crunch in the guitar tones that is biting amid slowing moving glacial track.
Alter is a band that has very quickly mastered the ability to evoke emotions from listeners. Their music is visceral, dark, and dense. They are able no only to utilize volume in service to a song’s needs but also brilliant tones and textures along the way. What is most impressive the use of the drums to create evocative moments. The percussion here is not simply a timekeeper but a builder of atmosphere and an almost melodic instrument in its own right. This trio’s sophomore effort is a masterful clarion call for all shoegaze and post-rock bands to pay attention. Pendulum is, indeed, a great album.