Desolate Shrine – Fires of the Dying World Review

Long-time readers should know that I have an unquenchable thirst for the musically terminal. Death metal, doom metal and anything that mirrors that inevitability. Back in 2017, I had the privilege of reviewing Desolate Shrine‘s Deliverance From the Godless Void. The Finns’ tenebrous tide drowns with startling ease and I’ve relentlessly plundered those depths ever since. However, with great power comes great responsibility. Expectation is a heavy burden, and with weighty releases like The Sanctum of Human Darkness anchoring a discography, it could become increasingly difficult to meet the standard. Now, fifth album Fires of the Dying World prepares to burst into life. It’s immediately clear that the band have affected a shift in their direction; perhaps an attempt to fend off potential stagnation or maybe even in aggrieved reflection of these trying times. Fortunately, whatever the destination, the left-hand path remains the only route…

For the uninitiated, Desolate Shrine play a cacophonous compound of death metal. Blackened ink and a doomed proof of concept author their soundscapes, yet the finished article remains ultimately death-bound. Although esoteric in nature, I’ve always enjoyed the band’s deft capacity to layer their work with subtle, yet grievous hooks. Deliverance From the Godless Void possessed a vast ebb and flow, which substantially influenced frontman, LL’s, funeral-adjacent ConvocationFires of the Dying World doesn’t so much as veer off the beaten track, but rather changes tact. Instead of a one-way ticket to perdition, these songs offer an excavation of your soul, one blunt fracture at a time.

Desolate Shrine have always reveled in expansive material. Their albums consistently uphold Finland’s metallic murk and have used that signature to expand into some darkly immersive depths. As soon as “Echoes in the Halls of Vanity” begins, it becomes clear that some things have changed. The song feels tighter and a little less impenetrable in its opening moments. While it maintains that foul familiarity, it’s all the more recognizable for its traditional nature. The death metal tropes that were once so outspread are now more taut and proximate. LL’s guitar work runs the gamut from haunting lead passages to massive, stripped-back grooves. However, I wasn’t entirely prepared for the world-eating riff that erupts come the track’s final throes. I was even more interested to find it immediately rear its head again in follow-up, “The Dying World.” These rhythm structures have far more in common with a band like Temple of Void. As a devotee of the almighty riff, I can’t say I’m displeased, but it certainly came as something of a surprise.

As per usual, LL handles all instrumentation. His leads are liquid and his riffs are now specifically galvanized. But, once again, I find his drumming to be the most impressive. The battery of blasts and fills at his disposal mimic the newly-honed direction and selectively brutalize outside of a blanket assault. As impressive as the album’s streamlining is, it also creates a crutch. Namely, repetition. Vocalists RS and MT keep the music vital with their guttural tirades, but the writing doubles down on the new robust riffs too readily. “The Silent God” and “Cast to Walk the Star of Sorrow” put these huge moments to great thematic use. The former utilizes atmosphere to fine effect while a propulsive finale snuffs out the latter. Unfortunately, these riffs have become the focal point of the writing. When I look at the track list, I’m only reminded of these moments. The songs’ connective tissues threaten to be reduced to simple stitching for these titanic grooves, and compromise my attention span a little too often.

I suspect that a band as adept as Desolate Shrine are fundamentally incapable of creating a bad album and Fires of the Dying World is certainly no exception. Indeed, as a death metal fan, I will always enjoy wandering these passages, knowing a spine-splitting riff lurks around every corner. But my expectation was of something a little more suffocating and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the immersive density of the band’s earlier work was conspicuous by its absence. Fires of a Dying World punishes with a more direct quality but, as a result, I suspect it will be less memorable in the long-term. Ultimately, Desolate Shrine continue to be one of the best bands of their genre. But only time will tell whether their previous paroxysms or an increasingly linear bludgeoning will dig deepest.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Dark Descent Records
Websites: darkdescentrecords.bandcamp |
Releases Worldwide: March 25th, 2022

Written by: Dear Hollow

Not that I would consider Desolate Shrine atmospheric death metal (mainly due to the negative connotations), but there’s something distinctly atmospheric about them in their lightless music. Their breed of dense death metal has long featured all the classic hallmarks, but it’s suffocating without excessive murk, aptly scathing without falling into disso-death or black metal, and patient without being called “doom.” While undeniably influenced by the Incantations, Immolations, and Thergothons of the world, these Fins transcend genre barriers in favor of a tangible gloom that permeates every fiber of their blackened hearts. Fifth full-length Fires of the Dying World is no different.

Although it could be argued that it does little to reach the hellish depths that genre classics In the Sanctum of Human Darkness and Deliverance from the Godless Void plumbed, Desolate Shrine prove they are nonetheless a force to be reckoned with. More traditional than its predecessors in a deeper rhythmic focus, Fires of the Dying World continues a cleaner, more blackened approach that never forsakes its gloom. We still gaze upon the deathless king whose frail countenance belies his sinister intentions, but his grasp is decrepit and reign weakened. Fires of the Dying World is a more straightforward approach, with riffs taking a more prominent role in the rituals behind the shroud.

In many ways, Desolate Shrine is doing dreary business as usual. You can expect a thick blanket of static that recalls Sanctum in the best ways – punchy riffs, touches of dissonance, and complex percussion to add to the fray. “The Silent God” in particular is a stunning creation of patience and atmosphere, a culmination of the act’s best assets, creating an environ as worthy of the moniker and as mysterious as its name. This sets the bleak standard for the album, as tracks like “Cast to Walk the Star of Sorrow” and “My Undivided Blood” revel in smooth movements and doom tempos that dwell and revere, commanding riffs like mountains and chasms across Fires of the Dying World‘s fog-shrouded landscapes. While the acoustic intro sets the otherworldly tone with precision and brevity, the bookends in opener “Echos in the Halls of Vanity” and closer “The Furnace of Hope” are their own mission statements in Desolate Shrine‘s breed of elegance and vitriol, balancing poetic themes with unrelenting riffs.

Elegance is the name of the game, and while Desolate Shrine accomplishes death metal with more professionalism and precision than any of their peers, there’s just something I found lacking about Fires of the Dying World. Dueling vocals add blackened flavors and dynamic heft, while the omnipresent murk is balanced nicely to add atmosphere without usurping the almighty riff. However, for the first time in the Fins’ career, I found that Fires sits firmly within its predecessor’s shadow. Cleaner, more blackened tones play a more prominent role, but this approach doesn’t feel like a natural progression, but rather an attempt at emulating Deliverance from the Godless Void. Maybe this is due to some sloppier execution or jarring transitions plaguing “Echoes in the Halls of Vanity” or “The Dying World,” but while Desolate Shrine‘s discography has always felt more significant than just death metal, Fires of the Dying World sits as simply a fantastic epitome of well-done death metal.

Desolate Shrine‘s legend is firmly intact five full-lengths in, and the Fins show no signs of stopping anytime soon. It continues where Deliverance left off, incorporating more blackened death elements and focusing on making music that swallows its listeners. Galloping riffs, tasteful dueling vocals, complex drumming, and tasteful murk coalesce to an otherworldly product that feels greater than the sum of its parts. But I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed with Fires of the Dying World, as its predecessor set a standard it could barely reach, and simply tries to emulate it. Desolate Shrine nevertheless remains the deathless king of gloom-laden death metal, but his crooked reach and all-seeing gaze begin to show decay.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

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