Ex-lovers, take cover: Banks' sophomore outing The Altar is ready for a sacrifice to the goddesses. With the fire of a thousand scorned lovers, Banks goes all in with her lyrical attack. Whether destroying an ex or empowering herself, Banks has strengthened her voice -- resolutely and with increased production value -- in the two years since her debut Goddess. The Altar is slightly less sleepy than its predecessor, including a handful of exciting hip-hop moments that pop and rumble ("Trainwreck" and "This Is Not About Us" are two standouts). Adding to the Fiona Apple-meets-Massive Attack vibe of past work, Banks also incorporates some of Björk's experimental spirit this time around, suffusing dramatic tracks with sweeping Homogenic orchestration ("Weaker Girl" and "Mother Earth") or spare Biophilia/Vespertine cool ("Fuck with Myself" and "Lovesick"). Throughout, she bleeds into each song. At times scathing and aggressive, tracks like "Gemini Feed," "Trainwreck," and "Weaker Girl" snarl with edge and attitude (sharp production by Sohn, Tim Anderson, and DJ Dahi add to the might). When she shifts the gears of pain inward, she lays herself bare with unflinching honesty and vulnerability, like on "Lovesick" and "Mind Games." As on the cover art -- where Banks is seen without makeup and her hair tied up and unkempt -- her protective barriers are down and her insides are visible to anyone willing to look (or listen). Although the latter third of The Altar is mostly a hypnotic comedown -- think Broods, Vaults, or the Weeknd's Trilogy -- Banks packs enough energy and zeal at the starting line to duly lay waste to whoever was foolish enough to break her heart.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung