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Love it when bands take a turn for the better and eschew ordinary song structures. Finland’s Desolate Shrine are not in this to invent their own genre, but their deadly compositions are at once thick, sluggish and clogged with a variety of harsh sounds. Must say something about their mind state and the ideas they try to invoke. Metalheads tend to favor hard and fast or hard and slow, but who about hard and withdrawn? “Corridor: Human Altar” the first cut, is at times gentle, though never weak. It start timidly and ends taking a bow, but is packed in the middle with a hard to take sense of dread. Guitars in opposite tones draw a heavy lift and others push for a melody that’s almost subliminal. The track ends, it builds anticipation, its purpose is clear.
The Sanctum of Human Darkness moves then more or less straightforward, with sheer brutality and careful arrangements that are never linear but follow direction. Death metal is key here, no one has argued this point precisely because is absurd. That’s what these Finns do, Finnish style, meaning, totally smoked, charred and blackened. The end result is diabolic, sludgy guitars reigning supreme and turning black as if to subtly divulging the subject matter. “Lair of Wolf and 1000 Lions: Nine Forgotten Names” isn’t just a long title, but a mini masterpiece of brainy metal of death, a beast that thinks, coils and wails wildly with disparaging instruments only connected by telekinesis. By the time the track ends one can only sit satisfied that extreme metal has leaped this much forward.
From a high level, the music of Desolate Shrine can be disorienting, as on one hand we have the sound itself which is layered and carefully arranged, but also robust, dynamic and totally sepia and on the other we have the band’s tendency to both startle with their slow ambience and pummel with proper brutality. There is far more of the latter, or let’s say The Sanctum of Human Darkness isn’t the kind of album that will appeal to ambient fans. The conjugation of both does make for a genial and at times authentically creepy release though.
Originally Written for www.deafsparrow.com
Desolate Shrine‘s sophomore release The Sanctum of Human Darkness is quite a late entry in 2012, once again being released under the excellent Dark Descent Records. With the recent interest in Finnish death metal, encountering one gem after another has definitely left me hungry for even more death metal out of this region, and The Sanctum of Human Darkness was a well-timed release to satisfy this craving.
Fitting to its namesake, the material on The Sanctum of Human Darkness sucks out all sense of hope and light, leaving one creeping alone in the dark in utter hopelessness and desolation. The dark acoustic intro of Corridor (Human Altar) very quickly gives way to Desolate Shrine‘s crushing brand of death metal, made all the more heavy and intense by the doom pace that the band prefers to move at. Sure, the classic Finnish influences from bands such as Convulse and Depravity rear their ugly head once in awhile, but Desolate Shrine makes things more extreme, taking the traditional Finnish death metal sound to a more atmospheric, suffocating level. The huge guitar tones take cue from Swedish legends like Entombed, but unlike the aforementioned, expect no d-beat, no fast and catchy death metal here. And the combined influences make for a sound that is more similar to bands such as Vasaeleth, complete with the dirty and abrasive production on the album.
But not the entire album is made up of full on crushing death metal, and it should be pretty obvious by now that the ambient of the music plays a key role in making Desolate Shrine‘s formula so successful. Of course, apart from the relentless riffs and the heavy, pounding drums, this is done with the unique format of utilising two vocalists, RS and ML, both equally ruthless and monstrous in their lyrical delivery, yet covering different vocal range to ensure a fuller vocal effect. The bass is thunderous as fuck, and the high presence, along with the low, heavy notes easily rattle the listener’s bones. Furthermore, the band often utilise softer, acoustic sections to complement or as a prelude to the chaos that hits the listener later, like moments in the middle of Plane of Awake (Dreams Over the Angel – Serpent Tower), making for a good mindfuck and ear-raping session. Songs like Pillars of Salvation (The Drowned Prince) even includes some black metal sounds with the riffing patterns, sounding like a more savage Marduk. The lead guitars, when present, are also often utilised to this effect, rather than truly a lead instrument per se.
The Sanctum of Human Darkness has definitely shown Desolate Shrine truly living up to their name, with the dark and crushing death metal that is contained within this record. There is nothing that is easy listening at all on this record, with the music constantly seeing the band pushing the boundaries of the listener’s sanity.