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Hammer of Hate is primarily, if not even exclusively, known for its black metal releases, but Desolate Shrine’s Tenebrous Towers is a change to that paradigm for the first time: what we’ve got here is some damn massive and crushing old school death metal. However, considering the morbid atmosphere and utter evilness of the record, it’s no longer that weird to see it being released through a black metal label. And, admittedly, there’s also some flirts with black metal within this monster of an album.
The very first thing to notice on Tenebrous Towers is indeed the sound that is just huge: the murkiness and relatively slow tempo (in general) nods to doom metal’s direction every now and then. Perhaps the riffs don’t delve in total uniqueness but the way they combine the sheer crushing element of death metal with black metalish menace is impressive - the first song ”The Smell of Blood and Iron” is already a fine example of that, and also one of my favourities of the whole. ”Crushing Darkness” churns like some sort of a flesh grinding machinery, and later incorporates some brooding doom bell atmospheres to the mix, another highlight of the bunch.
Handled by two members, the vocals deserve a mention too. You could think of Uncreation’s Dawn’s and Uncelestial’s Diabolik who also shifts from deep growls to higher pitched shrieks. The similarities don’t stop at the vocals though, as I’m seeing something familiar in the guitar ideas as well, so Tenebrous Towers is definitely recommendable to the fans of those bands - and I do happen to love those bands, so logically Desolate Shrine has hit the rights spots for me. Kick ass riffage with a lot of occult darkness, that is Tenebrous Towers in a nutshell, and this nutshell works like magic. No need for hesitations if it sounds like your deal, too.
4 / 5
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Another entrant into the atmospheric death metal derby, Finland's Desolate Shrine seek to match wits and a crushing miasma with one of them most monolithic, harrowing tones I've heard yet. This is sheer 90s gristle cast in a vaulted construct of pain. Think of the slow, desolate slog of Bolt Thrower colliding with the simmering Swedish groove and tone of Entombed or Dismember, and then add two vocalists, one with the expected guttural tone and another with a slightly higher pitch. A bruised and bloody duo howling from the cavernous, decrepit depths of the intense guitar mix, the brute and warlike drumming. I had initially misled myself to believe this would be more of a death/doom outing, due to the title, band name and cover art, but it's far more likely to appeal to fans of stuff like Vasaeleth, Denial, and Innumerable Forms.
That said, Tenebrous Towers does not quite sound like any of the above. It's almost uplifting, the curvature of the crashing guitar rhythms elevated towards the rafters of its subterranean habitat. Tracks like "Mouths of Baal" and "Born to Lose One's Way" are both expressive and vibrant enough to throw one off balance, though the band also has no problem hammering out faster, aggressive material like "Chaos and Wrath" or the burgeoning "Burning Devotion". They even take it down a notch for the most substantial piece on the album, "The Brightest Night", a spacious (8+ minutes) elegy which inevitably erupts into violent tumult. But the most catchy tune on the album is the opener, "The Smell of Blood and Iron", with a very Entombed like underpinning rhythm morphed into layers of rust and lichen peeling, savage melodies.
On the downside, not all of what Desolate Shrine are penning necessarily sticks to the ear, thus it becomes more of a work of resonance than intricacy, a loud titan beneath the earth, afraid to subside as it shifts the landscape about it, but an earthquake that one is likely to forget before too long. Still, if you're interested in wallowing in such an atmosphere, Tenebrous Towers is a good place to start, a port of call where old school Swedish and Finnish influences gather and interbreed, then drill their way into the spaces below.