If misery loves company, then Barren Altar demand an audience. The Santa Rosa black metal band is the heaviest and darkest outfit in the latest wave of heavy metal in the Bay Area.
This weekend, Barren Altar join North Bay legends Skitzo and a horde of other metal acts for a show hosted by Star Guitars on March 3 at the Veterans Memorial Building in Santa Rosa.
Heavy metal has become a staple of the region ever since Metallica took over the world in the 1980s, though in the last three decades, the term “metal” has evolved to incorporate subgenres like doom, thrash, death and black metal.
Today’s scene is a diverse mix of these subgenres, and Barren Altar’s blend of doom and black metal is a standout in the field for the pummeling guitars and searing vocals from founding members Ed “the Shred” Fullmer and Ryan Thompson.
Fullmer and Thompson go back as far as 2006, when they put together what Fullmer calls a “series of fake bands” that tested the limits of what you could accomplish in home recordings.
In 2013, they saw Norwegian black jazz-metal band Shining in San Francisco, a show that compelled them to join forces for real.
“I’ve always wanted to do something with Ryan,” says Fullmer. “He’s an amazing vocalist.”
“Everything happened really quick when we first started writing,” Thompson says. “We quickly solidified what we wanted to do, and we were doing some really dark music.”
Down-tuned guitars blasting massive riffs and heavy atmospheric rhythms characterize Barren Altar’s unapologetically bleak sound. “For me, I’m writing music that has a roller coaster of emotions,” Fullmer says.
Within that pitch-black realm, Thompson’s howling, scorched-earth vocals ring out like an otherworldly abomination.
“Our whole thing was writing chaotic music that relished in suffering,” Thompson says. “I think it’s cathartic for everyone involved, but the music itself isn’t supposed to be cathartic; it’s supposed to celebrate misery in the most earnest way we can do it.”
“That is the majority of what it sounds like, but there are certain moments, not happy moments, but moments where there’s a ray of light, so to speak,” Fullmer says.
Whatever their reasons for going dark, Barren Altar are making music for themselves. “We don’t think, ‘How are people going to enjoy this?'” Fullmer says. “Writing this music, it’s what
I need. I can’t think of any other way to do it.”