Monday, February 9, 2015

Desolate Shrine - Heart of the Netherworld [2015]

One thing that's almost always welcome on cloudy day is a dose of rainy, atmospheric death metal that makes for the perfect winter tapestry. Finland's Desolate Shrine ups their game considerably from their previous megalith ''Sanctum of Human Darkness'' in terms of sheer song writing qualities and individuality, but remain mostly loyal to the same winter fever formula of accumulated dust, grime and blood flooding through a familiar sluice gate of impeccable 90's brutality intermingling with the likes of Blasphemy in a rush of pure desolation (pun unintended). As a competitor in a field that continues to earn its place in our hyper-modern metal market through the likes of Dark Descent Records and FDA Rekotz, it's hard to disagree with the fact that survival of the fittest is the harsh reality for these guys, especially in a scene saturated to the teats with carnal death and black metal outfits of the same retinue, yet the Fins have a more distinguished sound than most other entrants, making it their only indicator of visibility in a miasma of smoke and darkness...

This is primitive, bombastic death metal with a seriously atmospheric punch. The huge grooving guitars are absolutely enormous and resonant above all else, large enough induce a further backwash of atmospheric noise that proves to be crux of the record, just as it was with their previous two albums. Desolate Shrine's love for ambiance is irrefutable, even though the guitars, some unearthly combustion of early 90's Swedeath a la Grave, Entombed and Dismember and Incantation in all their heaving filthiness, bear the real weight of the album and there's no lack of riffs either. The sound is very much a Vasaeleth or Impetuous Ritual, but I was also glad to hear some of the band's Finnish forefathers such as Convulse and Demigod filtered somewhere in the mix, popping up on some of the more blatantly eerie section such as the creeping interludes on ''Desolate Shrine'', or equally, on the serpentine tremolos ascending and descending with the momentum of the record.

There's no denial that this is 'old school', complete with all its glorification of aural darkness and suffocating evil, but the sharpness of the drums and the overall professionalism of the sound suggests that there's slightly more to be had here than just bare bones and cartilages. These guys are definitely not stuck in 1993, they must have some sort of time machine that allows them to pace back and forth through the decades unlike most other groups enjoying this brand of gnarly death metal; nor are they confined to the realms of death metal. Some of the longer tunes like the title track or ''Desolate Shrine'' are not just ambitious in their lengths but also through the sheer incorporation of plain, candid black metal chords that shuffle through album like currents of primordial shock. Even the vocals comply with the archaic umbra, differing between guttural growls and raspier haunts that should bring Deicide to mind.

The overall aesthetic of ''Heart of the Netherworld'' is pitch-perfect for cave dwellers and neanderthals who have things lurking in the dark corners of their minds: the mood, the riffs and the atmosphere is invariably there. The album doesn't do much in terms of breaking mold and doesn't seem like a significant detachment from the two previous albums in any way aside from the added grit to the sonic impact; ultimately I would still vie for something like Antediluvian or Mitochondrion if I ever felt like gobbling up a spoonful of 21st century atmospheric death metal, but they still come close to these titans in their writing. There is an almost definite assurance that Desolate Shrine live up to their name as well as the title, even if allows for much blatant black/death chaos to be conjured, in their traverse into some dark, unknown territory, but the key problem, as has been with countless other bands is that it's not a particularly memorable experience to sit through 61 fucking minutes of this, as the band even has a 14-minute monolith of impenetrable death/doom sorrow crammed in there... Hell, you even have a few moments' worth of twitchy piano cuts, some clean guitars and whatnot before everything else erupts in a sulfuric tumult. It's good stuff, all told, and worth a spin or two if you can bear through it. Darkness is conveyed; don't forget to bring a flashlight.

Black Fires of God
Desolate Shrine

Rating: 70%

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