Larman Clamor, Altars to Turn Blood: Cities of the Snake

A mere six months after the release of their self-titled debut EP, the apparently-well-motivated German outfit Larman Clamor returns with the inevitable follow-up full-length, Altars to Turn Blood. Perhaps even more impressively, they do so having lost one of their two members. Following the somewhat mysterious departure of drummer, organist and engineer R, Larman Clamor is down solely to guitarist, vocalist and visual artist V. You wouldn’t know it from the sound of Altars to Turn Blood — and in fact R might actually be on the record; the timing on his departure isn’t quite clear – which is as fully conceived and realized as was the EP, with an even bolder and crisper blend of gospel, blues, psychedelically-tinted Americana and throaty incantations. The atmosphere is nearly all swamp, and Larman Clamor seem to revel in breathing that moist air, rejoicing with Baptist fervor in arrangements of foreboding acoustic guitar, subdued moments leading to bombast, the occasional interjection of distortion, organ, hand-claps, etc. Arrangement-wise, Altars to Turn Blood is complex, but Larman Clamor do well to also make it cohesive, so that the record is never especially out of balance where it doesn’t mean to be, and where clarity of sound never comes at the sacrifice of natural feel, and vice versa.

Because the arrangements are varied however stylistically consistent the songs might be, Altars to Turn Blood is best heard at least once on headphones. There are some parts that are just so quiet, so intimate, that proximity between speakers and ears actually comes to matter as it rarely does. Whether it’s the organ whistle underscoring the late-arriving “Handful of Hex” or the Delta swing of centerpiece “Limb Creek Boogie,” there’s something to be said for embracing the live feeling Larman Clamor create and making the listening experience as personal as possible. You don’t have to close your eyes, but it might help. It’s also worth noting that, at just under 25 minutes, Altars to Turn Blood is an almost unspeakably-quick listen, but that too winds up working to the record’s advantage. There’s no way it’s anything less than a full-length album. The nine songs express a complete structural and atmospheric idea and with each audible clicking on and off of the tape recorder, you’re re-immersed in the naturalistic feel; the tape hum feels always present in the sparse moments, somehow enhancing even the chant-backed 36-seconds of “Lost Path through the Mountains.” The album opens with its title-track, which also winds up being one of the more raucous moments, the layered distorted whispers of the titular line adding more than a modicum of danger to the forceful strumming and percussive build. Blown-out yelling, glass bottle banging, guitars, bongos, and, finally, release with laughter, and Altars to Turn Blood is under way. “Lost Path through the Mountains” is underscored by what sounds like banging on the side of an acoustic guitar, and that leads right into the electrified “Deep in the Tar,” which is no less rhythmic.

It’s here that Larman Clamor inject their bluesy take with a bit of love for the heavy: That riff is simply undeniable. Layered vocals result in a highlight cut and one of Altars to Turn Blood’s most lasting impressions, but most of all, what the song does is teem with an energy that’s both unbridled and restrained. There’s just something about “Deep in the Tar” that feels like it wants to punch you in the face, which makes the turn into the masterfully subdued beginning of “Woven From Blood” all the more impressive. V adopts a dry-throated vocal worthy of Scott Kelly for the first verse, but the song soon develops backing vocals, distorted guitar, organ and hand-claps to go with its heavy-footed, ultra-simple initial percussion line. At a sprawling 4:14, “Woven From Blood” is the longest song on Altars to Turn Blood, and really, it’s a full-length unto itself at that point. A bluesy guitar solo weeds its way in at around three minutes, and the next minute morphs into a jam that could last another 10 and I wouldn’t have complained. But as much as the band has going on, there’s nothing on these songs that feels superfluous, and 10 minutes of indulgently riding out the same part probably would be, so kudos to the band for moving directly forward into the get-up-out-your-chair “Limb Creek Boogie,” and keeping the album as lean as possible. This kind of guitar line I always associate with John Lee Hooker, but you could probably find other electric blues sources as well, and probably someone better suited to make the connection. Either way, the acoustic slide guitar that seems to come out of nowhere to end the track nonetheless provides suitable transition into “Great Plains Lizard Priest,” which in turn capitalizes on the elements that Larman Clamor have managed – in just 13 minutes, mind you – to turn into “familiar.”

If the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway, “Great Plains Lizard Priest” makes no attempt to hide its Americana bent. Entirely instrumental, it makes its stand in rich layered percussion and guitar lines, and is soon clicked off to make way for “Phantom & Rhinosaur,” where Larman Clamor remind that one of the things they did so well on the EP preceding this record was meld drone elements behind their bluesy propulsions. Acoustic and electric guitar work in tandem on “Phantom & Rhinosaur” (no clues as to which is the phantom and which the rhinosaur), but the song retains for the most part its quiet, somewhat morbid feel. There’s a build, as there is with many of the tracks on Altars to Turn Blood, but in terms of the arrangement, Larman Clamor hold back from bringing in much more than a tambourine, which works well in providing a quiet moment prior to the last-minute standout cut “Handful of Hex.” It feels like a revival in more than just its gospel sensibilities, with the thick electric guitar brought to the fore above the acoustics and a near-catchy delivery of the title line reminding a bit of what Larman Clamor was able to make out of the first song. Once more, the love of Delta blues is worn on the sleeve, but there’s a rock underpinning as well, and after three songs in a row floating around or less than three minutes in length, “Handful of Hex” feels more substantial at 3:51 and probably could have closed Altars to Turn Blood had “Black Sheep” fit anywhere else – which I’ve no doubt it didn’t.

V follows the guitar closely in terms of the vocal melody of the verse, and there are some vague distortions behind him – enough so that if you wanted to call Larman Clamor experimental, you probably could – that mesh with the rattlesnake shaker, blues electric, organ and percussion to solidify one last atmosphere before the album ends. The intensity of a song like “Deep in the Tar” is nowhere to be found on “Black Sheep,” which makes it all the more fitting a finale. What’s hardest to believe about Altars to Turn Blood is just how much ground is covered in the short runtime. The EP showed a rudimentary kind of potential, and I think there’s still plenty of room for stylistic growth and expansion based on what I’m hearing on these nine tracks, but Altars to Turn Blood is stunning in what it creates from parts that in less skillful arrangements would seem choppy or disparate. Like Wovenhand or Earth, Larman Clamor proves to have an appeal beyond that which their sound might most superficially present. With the departure of R, I don’t know what the future holds for the Hamburg outfit, but Altars to Turn Blood should easily earn converts to their snake-handling, backwoods congregation.

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