Desolate Shrine- The Heart of the Netherworld (Dark Descent)

Simply crushing.

You need more heaviness in your life. This is a non-negotiable proposal. To illustrate my point, I implore you to inflict upon yourself the gravitational head-crushing payload that is Desolate Shrine’s latest album.

They do good work over at Dark Descent Records, unearthing many dirty and disgusting sounds from the underground, but this time they’ve really outdone themselves. Desolate Shrine play what can roughly be described as atmospheric death metal, but not atmospheric in the sense that they make a good mood setter for a romantic candlelit dinner. No, Desolate Shrine’s music is atmospheric in the literal sense of the word; an invisible force with enough pressure to hold a planet together. It’s an approach that has gained them favourable comparisons to such luminaries Portal and Aosoth. But Desolate Shrine is no mere copycat band; they retain a distinct sound and identity of their own.

After a mood setting instrumental track initially titled Intro, but later renamed For the Devil and His Angels for commercial release, we really get to experience just what Desolate Shrine has to dish out. The first thing you notice about this record is just how damn good it sounds. The band manages to capture the oppressive heaviness of acts like Portal and Ulcerate, but with a strikingly dynamic mix. Everything pops and fizzes with perfect clarity but still manages to remain absolutely crushing. The guitars in particular manage to take the old-school Swedish death metal sound and push it even further. When people talk about the loudness war and how digital music has ruined dynamics, it’s albums like this that need to be held up as how to do things right.

As for the songs themselves, they’re all top shelf examples of boundary pushing death metal. Desolate Shrine focus much more on crafting moods than riffs, so it can be a bit difficult to pick out individual highlights, however the material stays consistent throughout. As for flaws with this album, at over an hour long it can be a real slog to sit through. This is an increasingly common complaint I’m having with albums I’ve been listening to recently and it’s almost par for the course at this point.

If you feel prepared to be crushed by the meteoric force of some of the best death metal going, and then look no further. It’s early days for 2015, but some front-runners are already emerging.

The Heart of the Netherworld is out now.