Released: 2012, Dark Descent Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
After tearing down walls with their first release Tenebrous Towers over a year and a half ago, Helsinki's Desolate Shrine are back with this sophomore seven-tracker. Receiving mixed responses in their career so far, I'm pleased to announce that the trio have unleashed a much better effort in perfect timing for the recently-thriving underground interest in Finnish death metal.
The Sanctum of Human Darkness is a no-holds-barred, chin-wrenchingly-dense return to the depths of retro death and the pits of hell. Doomy and sludgy tinges of 'Demon Heart' meet the melodic keys of 'Chalice of Flesh and Bone', as chaotic and tumbling guitars weld a blackened wall of sound. The most controversial part of the record is its vintage production, whose muddiness is perfectly complimented by the crushing, mid-range tempo throughout. But at a time when technological advances have polished and preened death metal's swirling riffs and sudden blast-beat switches to pompadour, it's refreshing to hear Desolate Shrine's distortion stripped to sound so cold and traditional under such a metallic mix.
The only niggling complaint I have is that unless you spin the album five times and pay particular attention, none of the songs are especially memorable, and have the potential to merge into 55 minutes of sonic anarchy for the lazy listener. But because that problem is an unavoidable one, since it's a direct product of the blanket-nature of the sound, and this very sound makes the work what it is, it's merely a case of personal preference as to whether you prefer the older or newer production styles. Since I'm generally a fan of the past ways though, the pros outweigh the cons.
Although any intricacies are near-lost, the relentless high-end grating maintains the harshness required to sound authentic, while injections of subtlety break it up and avoid complete suffocation, such as the ambient 'Old Man's Visit' and the clean-picked arpeggios of 'Corridor'. The record is, simply put, an effortless wheel of atmospheric heaviness that rolls through your headphones with as much ease as noise.
A modernist could also argue that nothing new or original is being offered, but it is the sheer dedication of Desolate Shrine to preserving the rawness of primitive death, and their skill in doing so, that makes this disc one of the most well-executed, yet well-concealed death metal pieces of 2012 for me. Elements of Entombed, Demigod and early Amorphis in the huge guitar tone and its ball-crushing intensity provides a glorious celebration of the genre's most venerable elements. If anyone thought Swedish contemporaries had stolen all the death metal acclaim, I'd strongly recommend throwing this disc into your pc and turning the volume up.
Review by Rhiannon Marley