Desolate Shrine – The Sanctum of Human Darkness (Dark Descent Records)

Wednesday, 27th March 2013
Rating: 7.5/10

Every conceivable tag has been applied to death metal, most of which are ill-founded and purveyed with a warped sense of metaphor. Like, when someone says “this is death metal from the bowels of hell!” it should at least sound like a journey to desolate pits where fire and brimstone await, not some cartoon landscape. Frankly, death metal to the land of h-e-double hockey sticks must sound distressed and warped, much like Desolate Shrine’s The Sanctum of Human Darkness does. It’s your proverbial one way ticket to hell…and back. Clichés are great.

The sophomore outing from these Finnish death merchants, The Sanctum of Human Darkness is shrouded in multiple layers, off-putting vocal pacing, and churning riffs, few of which make a play at high-octane velocity levels. Because of this, there’s a pervasive sense of dread, something more apparent than on most funeral doom albums, only because Desolate Shrine’s riffs are suitably unconventional, sometimes careening off into spooky acoustic territory (see: “Plane of Awake: Dreams Over Angel Serpent Tower”), all the while the twin vocal attack of RS and ML work in tandem, conveying unearthly bellows to the max.

The first sign of a real rumble comes by way of “Pillars of Salvation: The Drowned Prince,” a song that slowly climbs the death metal ladder to Stockholm, although with much more mystique than your average Dismember or Entombed romp. The smoldering “Lair of Wolf & 1,000 Lions: Nine Forgotten Names” rests heavily on eerie chord movements, while the extremity uptick on “Chalice of Flesh and Bone: The Eminence of Chaos” serves as Desolate Shrine’s most multi-faceted piece, ranging from deep atmospheric depths, to hard-charging primal death metal.

Certainly an album well off the beaten path of the last 18 months, The Sanctum of Human Darkness possesses a distinct ability to play off the worlds of atmosphere and mid-paced death metal. It’s an album that could easily trip up the unsuspecting listener, while sucking in those who realize there’s more to life in death metal than pillaging the remains of the early 90’s.

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