I know this is about the twentieth time I’ve brought this up in the past year, but Voices are amazing and you should buy everything they sell at you. I feel pretty smug that I managed to get my name down to review London before my fellow scribes had time to realize what they were missing: not only will I be first in line to review their next record (please don’t take this from me AMG), I also get first dibs on reviewing any affiliated acts. And as Voices guitarist Sam Loynes says “yes to anything that comes [his] way, metal or otherwise,” these are quite numerous. Shrines (formerly known as Diminished Fifth) is the third of Sam’s bands I’ve reviewed (he also sings for The Antichrist Imperium), and one I’d been very much looking forward to listening to ever since hearing his description of them as “kind of Neurosis-y but Akercocke-y, bit of Gojira in there.” My expectations sky high, I settled down in my captain’s chair, clamped on my finest headphones, and tentatively caressed the iTunes play button.
After twenty minutes of accidentally listening to Sigh and thinking “wow, Shrines really sound like Sigh,” I found the correct record and finally got down to it. Shrines do not in fact sound like Sigh, but do sound “kind of Neurosis-y but Akercocke-y, bit of Gojira in there.” Though Shrines is not as good as this ludicrously fantastic blend suggests it could be, it’s still a very well executed and distinctive take on atmospheric black/death metal. Much of the album indeed occupies the strange space between Gojira and Akercocke (“Eternal Return” and “Forsaken Origin” are the best examples of this blend), but plenty of other influences creep in, from Drudkh (“Ariadne’s Truth”) to Krallice and Isis (“The Drowned and Saved”) to Primordial (“Of the Wolf,” “Forsaken Origin”) to Morbid Angel (“Multitude of Sin”). The Neurosis/Isis influence is occasionally apparent but subtle, becoming most noticeable on the acoustic “In the Manor.”
This diversity is held together by Sam’s unusual vocals. While growls and rasps are occasionally called for, Sam uses his diverse clean voice extensively. His singing style is simultaneously melodramatic and plaintive, occasionally verging on becoming strained. Along with the interesting harmonies, his style both contributes to Shrines‘ distinctiveness and helps to tie sometimes very disparate song elements together. If anything, I could have done without the growled vocals entirely in favor of more clean singing placed higher in the mix (sorry Andy Synn).
Unfortunately, captivating vocals aren’t enough to save some of the ropier riffs on the record. The diversity is both a blessing and a curse for Shrines: it helps keep the album interesting but can lead to a loss of atmosphere and consistency – especially towards middle of the album, which contains the majority of the more straight-up death and black metal riffing. It also makes having a consistent mix that suits all the different styles more difficult. Shrines have opted for a claustrophobic guitar tone and a surprising amount of low bass on the kick drum. This causes the denser arrangements and faster sections to become quite muffled, though the sound works well when the drumming is sparser.
Overall this is an extremely promising debut album brimming with creativity. Shrines have existed in one form or another since the late 2000s, and given that it has taken them so long to release anything, it’s not surprising to find some musical baggage on here. Judging by recent interviews the band’s sound is still evolving, and with a bit more tweaking and trimming I’m certain they will create majesty. In the mean time, though, Shrines delivers plenty of musical sustenance for anyone craving something a little out of the ordinary.