This year, I learned that anonymity can only carry you so far in life. Ask Mr. Tobias Forge or either of the two proposed leaders from two of the bazillion Batushkas out there how that all panned out in the end, at least in terms of legal issues. And since their debut album, 2015’s impressive-if-repetitive Disciples of the Void, we’ve learned that Shrine of Insanabilis are German, and that their drummer, Serpenth, also played in Acherontas. Ah, well, so much for mystery. Thankfully, the music makes up for the pulling-back of the curtain, so to speak, but with Vast Vortex Litanies, it seems that the Shrine are largely jogging in place instead of taking a spirited sprint into the void.
Thankfully, the scenery still captivates at points. Opener “Parallax Endeavour” blasts away with kinetic fury once the ominous pounding intro gives way. The little Nightbringer tremolo flourishes rear their heads again, but they’re fewer and farther between, used as garnishes instead of being key ingredients to their dishes. Near the song’s 2:30 mark, there’s an impressive build-up that would rival Drudkh in terms of setting up an atmosphere but sadly goes nowhere with it, as the band resorts to just blasting in a different direction altogether. Still, little moments like that, and the halfway point of closer “Verdict” provide excellent hooks that elevate both songs considerably.
It’s just a shame that Shrine of Insanabilis took very few chances, and compared to Disciples of the Void, the lack of hooks and atmosphere becomes even more pronounced. Sure, there’s nothing that would be considered “bad” on here, but when most of your songs are running into the 6-7 minute mark, and nothing grabs you except for the speed involved, it makes for an aggravating listen. I keep expecting “The Last-Born Tyrant” to develop into something grander, given the interesting hook and rhythm in the first verse, but it doesn’t lead to such heights, despite Serpenth’s powerful tom hits during the first verse. Mostly, it sticks to the same gear, the same riffs, and the same path, and with the exception of both “Parallax Endeavour” and “Verdict,” that’s a complaint that permeates throughout the majority of Vast Vortex Litanies.
At least the production has more breathing room this time without muffling the instruments. The guitars still carve with icy precision, and I appreciate being able to hear (and feel) the bass this go-’round. But the drums do take a bit of a hit during some of the blasts, such as in “Vertex.” I just wish more care went into the editing of the songs themselves. Cutting out unnecessary outros and soundbites (looking at you, “Verdict”) only serves to tighten up the album overall, and that was a chief complaint I had with Disciples of the Void as well. Also, the atmospheric pieces the band dabbles in are a welcome change-of-pace to the relentless onslaught, and utilizing them more effectively would work out in the band’s favor down the line instead of feeling like mere afterthoughts.
If it seems like I’m being harsh, it’s because Disciples showed so much promise in terms of what Shrine of Insanabilis was capable of, so I was hoping to get something more developed in Vast Vortex Litanies.1 Instead, it sounds like Disciples 2.0, with all the flaws that hampered the debut. Again, I’m not giving up on the Shrine, but they’ll need to develop their craft a bit further the next time before I’m all in.