Tired of overly clean, triggered production jobs and some of the more generic, sterile aspects of modern death metal? Finland’s Desolate Shrine might just be the antidote you are looking for. Hot on the heels of their 2011 debut Tenebrous Towers; the gut-wrenching The Sanctum of Human Darkness is the depraved follow-up. This is dark and nasty death metal with a visceral edge, largely played at a mid-paced lurch with a dose of blackened sludge seeping through the framework. Desolate Shrine is skilled at creating a despondent, devilish atmosphere from which to launch their raw attack, and they do so with the psychotic glee of a madman.
The recording’s wall-of-sound approach has a messy feel at times, but generally suits the raw, gloomy vibe of the material. The guitars sound particularly menacing; enamored with a reverb-laden, crusty buzz that has a crushingly claustrophobic effect. The surly grunt of the rhythm section adds further heft and tar-coated thickness. The bass drums have an especially sturdy, chest thumping quality and the drumming is solidly executed. Noisy blasts are interspersed with fairly simple beats and lots of tidy fills and double bass work. The bowel-rumbling vocals fit perfectly amongst the foreboding atmosphere and brutal angle of Desolate Shrine’s sound. Deep, subterranean bellows bully their way through the mix, occasionally throwing-in guttural variations for good measure.
Desolate Shrine incorporates doomy, sludge-laced elements into their sound, adding a gritty, groove-based quality to the songs. And the occasional melodic guitar line and flirtation with speed adds further variety to the unconventional structures, which bypass the standard verse-chorus-verse formula. The Sanctum of Human Darkness is an album of scattered standout moments; where the songs feature at least a couple of quality riffs or meaty grooves, rather than sticking out as singular entities. Aside from a few exceptions most of the songs blend together in a brutal cacophony of dense, noisy riffs, malevolent grooves and drumming that favours blunt force intensity over speed and flashiness. The overall lack of memorability in the song-writing and the rather ‘samey’ feel of each song is a factor that holds the album back a bit. But this isn’t the kind of death metal album to sit back and enjoy for its technical proficiency and catchy hooks. Instead it can be enjoyed purely for its unpretentious, no-bullshit approach, unrelenting sonic violence and maliciously straight-forward intent,
Most the songs average between 6-8 minutes in length, with ‘Demon Heart (The Desolate One)’ the longest track, falling just shy of 10-minutes. The barbaric dissonance of ‘Pillars of Salvation (The Drowned Prince)’ blends noisy, chaotic moments, bruising slower parts and a monstrous heavy dirge around the 4.45-minute mark, to great effect. ‘Chalice of Flesh and Bone (The Eminence of Chaos)’ is another nihilistic battering of the senses. The chunky 8.19-minute tune begins softly with an eerie intro before developing into one of the groovier, riff-based songs on the album.
This is one of the uglier death metal releases you are likely to come across in 2012, and the lack of polish and technical flair is a large part of its charm. The Sanctum of Human Darkness is reminiscent of a soundtrack one might expect to hear if they stumbled into a dank, satanic crack house; and if that’s not your scene then it probably works its misanthropic wonders in the suburbs too.[Visit the band's website]