Desolate Shrine - The Heart of the Netherworld 01Great, for my first review of 2015 I have a cold. My head is a slime factory, and some genius cephalic operations manager has decided that the best place to store the snot-stock awaiting delivery to my nostrils is behind my eardrums. I’m fortunate that the band I’m reviewing is Desolate Shrine, then, as their ultra-dense death metal is one of the few things powerful enough to penetrate through the aural mucus wall. Desolate Shrine previously exhibited their particular brand of hugely depressing, atmospheric death on 2011’s Tenebrous Towers and 2012’s The Sanctum of Human Darkness, which musically fell somewhere between Incantation and Aosoth. A winning combination I’m sure you’ll agree, and one that they’ve continued to develop on new platter The Heart of the Netherworld.

After an introductory track sets the mood, “Black Fires of God” thunders in with heavy mid-paced pummeling, perfectly demonstrating Desolate Shrine’s exceptional ability to sound simultaneously grandiose, atmospheric, and punishingly brutal. Third track “Desolate Shrine” lurches forwards in slow 3/4 time like some hellish waltz, torturing you for nearly ten minutes before allowing you the release of “Death” (aka track four). This is the shortest song on the album (save for the intro) yet still lasts for over six minutes; the longest song, “We Dawn Anew,” is almost fifteen minutes. Fortunately it contains just about enough variety to hold your interest despite maintaining the atmosphere of claustrophobic misery, including a mournful piano intro, blasting outro and the kind of gloomy quiet interludes Ahab do so well.

Desolate Shrine prioritize atmosphere over riffs, though not to the same extent as, say, Portal. There are distinct guitar lines and some headbanging moments to be had, but the songs are not independently all that distinctive (excepting “We Dawn Anew” simply for its length). This is reflected in the fantastic production, which isn’t so much a wall of sound as a mountain of noise. The thick guitars and bass swirl around with the perfect amount of distortion and reverb to allow the intricacies to be heard, but only if you’re really listening. By contrast, the punchy but natural drums ensure maximum heaviness and prevent the sound from becoming too washed out. The vocals are another highlight, with both the lower and higher growls sounding suitably inhuman. The overall aural aesthetic is similar to Grave Miasma’s Odori Sepulcrorum or even Sulphur Aeon’s Swallowed by the Ocean’s Tide, though the music itself is quite distinct from these comparisons.

Desolate Shrine - The Heart of the Netherworld 02

My only real criticism is that the whole thing goes on a bit too long. While the band manage to sound more varied than many of their atmospheric death peers, a little more diversity in the songwriting is needed when your record’s running time is over an hour, and when you don’t really help the listener out by offering any hooks. But then I suspect that the Netherworld can be a monotonous and tuneless place IRL, so perhaps this is the perfect representation. I am a fan of sticking to your concept, after all.

The Heart of the Netherworld sees Desolate Shrine improve on their already impressive previous releases, perfecting their formula of doom-laden bludgeoning and setting a high bar for death metal in 2015. I count myself pretty lucky that fate dealt me this album to sooth my congested head rather than that other January death metal release from Grymm’s new favorite band. Poor Grymm.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Dark Descent Records
Release Date: Out Worldwide 01.13.2015

  • Well, I have to hand it to the Dark Descent guys, at least they took it in great stride and humor in the comments of that Ghoulgotha review. They have gone up in their already high spot on my favourite labels list with that. As for Ghoulghota, I’ve seen too many bands getting into stupid social media feuds because of a poor review and it was a breath of fresh air seeing them acting really mature at Mr. Grymm’s opinion. It even made me want to give a fighting chance to the next album they already promised there.

    And based on that embedded song I will surely give a chance to this one, man, even with youtube’s shitty audio compression it was a great slab of good ole DM crust.

  • Luke_22

    Cool, I enjoyed their first couple of albums so if this is an improvement I’m looking forward to delving into this one. They make some seriously dark, ugly and brutal music.

  • Mm. Crunchy goodness. Gotta give this one a deep listen.

  • Suffering Zappatash

    I’ve enjoyed the past two albums from Desolate Shrine and they’ve not let me down with their new one either! A great way to start 2015 and another good review Capt. Ricard!

    • I’m also a big fan of their streaky logo and cover art. These guys really have their image down and great music to match.

  • Well, this certainly sounds uncomfortable and oppressive. I better spin some Jorn, STAT!

    • Monsterth Goatom

      I’ve heard that some John Denver also works good at times like these.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      maybe watch a film I hear the Jorn Identity is good

  • This IS fascinating. Thanks JL!

    • Jean-Luc Ricard

      Pas de problème!

  • Excentric_1307

    It’s like a better produced Teitanblood. I dig it.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Holy Latin American Domino Theory, Batman, that’s one thick and tasty track. This is the kind of music to save for the end of a shitty day when you can just drop back in your favourite comfy chair, put on the headphones, close your eyes, and let your troubles slip away.

    Great, deep, sepulchral vocals too.

    • “Holy Latin American Domino Theory, Batman!” Please say that was actually used on the show…

      • Monsterth Goatom

        No, and neither was “Holy Putrid Pomegranate Fruit, Batman”.

        • “Holy Roman Empire, Batman!” That one has to have been used…

  • Wilhelm

    Sounds very dark and oppressive, which translates to lovely in my book.

  • sui

    First time heard this band, awesome stuff.

  • Feeblejocks

    I’ve been looking for a good atmospheric DM album on and off for about a week now (for some reason I can’t remember), and I think this will satisfy. Thanks, Jean-Luc – hope that head cold clears up! It’s damn hard to headbang when you’ve got a liter of semi-solid liquid sloshing around in your skull.

    • Jean-Luc Ricard

      All good now, thank you!

  • Thatguy

    Me too!
    Good review and the embedded song sounds great – darker and a bigger sound than ‘The Sanctum of Human Darkness’

  • Guest

    Sounds as thick as Paige Turnah tighs! Me likey!!!

  • Alexandre Barata

    Sounds as thick as Paige Turnah thighs! Me likey!!!

  • Thatguy

    Better late than never…..just got around to listening to this and I love it

    Thanks for the heads up….it’s finding out about great stuff like this on this site that makes wading through yet another power metal review worth the trade off

    I still don’t get what there is to love about Gazpacho though…….

  • Requiem

    Finally got around to listening to that embedded track. This is EXACTLY how I like my death metal to sound. And ‘Nothing is holy as all is nothing/Nothing is all as holy is nothing’ is some of the most wonderfully confusing lyricism I’ve ever heard. A hearty fuck yes to this!