There's an extremely promising band out in England named Scythian, who put out one of the better black/death hybrid releases in many moons with last year's infernal statement To Those Who Stand Against Us... Craven Idol is an additional project featuring two of the members, guitarist/vocalist Immolator of Sadistik Wrath (aka S. Vrath) and bassist J.C. Volgard (who plays drums in the other band). They're fleshed out by drummer axeman Hellscourger who also plays in a demo-level band known as Deceptor, and together the three parade through a rampant 24 minutes of blackened thrash metal with just the hint of old school death in some of the streaming, ghastly melodies.
The influences here are many, and like most of the bands in this field, quite obvious. You've got some Bathory, some Hellhammer, perhaps some Blasphemy, Venom and Mayhem too. I might have heard a few hints of Ulver's Nattens Madrigal in there, but subtly, through the buzzsaw riffing insanity. The actual writing is a different ballpark than Scythian, because its excruciatingly simplistic, and yet the chord progressions are really quite evil and effective for this sort of throwback project. The band does suffer slightly from the familiarity syndrome that many of their riffs will evoke, but I've definitely heard worse approximations of the metal past.
A freakish whorl of swelling synths and horrid ritual-like morphed voices part to present the "Tiamatic Reprisal", which is essentially a blackish/doom/thrash mutation of a death march, eventually picking up into a blissfully razor-sharp verse riff above which Immolator sounds much like some perceived, mythic figure of his namesake, standing by the furnaces of Hell and punching your tickets before giving you a hellforged steel-tipped boot to the ass, hurling you forth into the conflagration. "Burial Zenith" grinds with a grinding, hellpunk undercurrent, the vocals becoming even more caustic as they reverberated across the infernal skyline. "Desolate Tomb of the Trinity" doesn't differ much from this pattern, but has some shrill spikes of lead work that cut through the raging chord-work. I also rather enjoyed the ritualistic ambient meets metal mesh of the closer, "The Pact", a fine nightcap to the slaughter.
Ethereal Altars is a fairly well honed statement of blasphemy, with all the parts in place for a successful band of this category, but it does lack a little in the way of truly memorable writing. The riffs are pleasantly vile, but not deliciously so. There's not a lot of ambition, but the band at least compensates with atmosphere. If you're a big fan of the rosters of Hell's Headbangers or Nuclear War Now! labels, then Craven Idol is something you will want to check out. They compare favorable to bands like Nunslaughter and Blasphemophager, although they're not quite as extreme or chaotic.
Verdict: Win [7/10]