Celestial Sanctuary – Soul Diminished Review

There’s little I enjoy more than boastful, vain-glorious chest thumping in a young band’s promo package, and the U.K.’s Celestial Sanctuary delivered just that, proudly proclaiming themselves the forerunner of a New Wave of British Death Metal. Strong words for such a young act with nary but a demo and single to their name, but can they back it up on their full-length debut, Soul Diminished? Well, they certainly give it their all, taking an old school death template and spicing it up with slight modern touches and a whiff of deathcore. Thankfully this skews way closer to the former and away from the latter, evoking the wengeful spirits of Autopsy, Grave, and Asphyx as they seek the right sized war club with which to crush skulls and splatter grey matter.

One thing these upstarts know how to do is open with panache, as lead track “Rid the Gormless” is an old fashioned slobberknocker of a death tune, full of piss, vinegar, rat droppings, and expired beef broth. It’s a morbid blend of thrashy assaults, bone-crushing mid-tempo rumbling, doomy digressions, and a bouncy caveman swagger. Traces of vintage Autopsy and early Death leer at you from behind every tombstone as the band drags you through the graveyard of death metal legends with riffs that pack enormous weight and vocals that are disgusting and noxious. Give me an album’s worth of this rancid shit and I’d pull a Holdeneye and make it rain 4.0s on the killing floor. Yes, there are some deathcore-esque breakdowns present but everything is so deeply rooted in the olden ways of death, you probably won’t even notice. Elsewhere, the  title track sounds like the band took a recent Asphyx track and coated it in lead. It’s heavy as fook, grinding along in a ghastly mid-tempo that feels inexorable and unstoppable. The riffs carry the day, simple as they may be, and you will feel oppressed.

Big highlights include the Obituary meets Bolt Thrower power of “Mass Extinction,” which has big riff magik that will make you want to throttle your favorite family member, and “Endless Chasm” which is all about grinding, powerhouse groove riffs that feel heavier than a 3 hour French philosophy seminar. I especially love the way the song coasts along in its final minute on one simple, ginormous riff. None of the songs are filler, but they don’t all hit as hard as the highlights. “Suffer Your Sentience” relies on a simple structure and basic riffs, and it works, but runs on about a minute too long, and closing piece “Formless Entity” is just a drum-based outro that doesn’t add much to the album. At a very lean 37 minutes, you may want just a little more of what Celestial Sanctuary is selling, which is generally a good sign. The production is loud but properly accentuates the guitars, which sound like an acid mammoth stampede. The bass does some strange things on “Yearn for the Rot,” sounding way too loud and hollow, as if there was some kind of a glitch in the recording process, but this is a minor issue in an otherwise good song.

I’m impressed with the guitar-work and riff-sense displayed by Thomas Cronin. He’s achieved a wicked blend of influences, taking elements of the American and Swedish death metal schools and suturing them into one greasy, scuzzy death burrito. While the main ingredient is old school death, he does try to modernize things with some well-placed pinch harmonics and the occasional breakdown. Every song features a nasty riffs and the best songs contain several. As a vocalist Mr. Cronin also deserves accolades, reminding me of John Tardy, Martin van Drunen and Chris Reifert at various times as he roars, rasps and cackles like a deranged crypt keeper. The entire band is tight and the drumming by James Burke is especially rabid and brutal.

Time will tell if Soul Diminished is the opening salvo in a targeted assault from British death metal acts, but taken alone, Celestial Sanctuary delivered a very enjoyable debut with standout moments of old school death ugliness that will reward the hearty, terrify the weak, and infect the skinless. This kind of toxic swill is my toe jam and I can see this thing getting a goodly amount of play in my cargo beshorted future. Now go churn those British death waves, kids!

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Redefining Darkness
Websites: celestialsanctuary.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/celestialsanctuarydeathmetal
Releases Worldwide: March 26th, 2021

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