DESOLATE SHRINE – Fires of the Dying World (2022)REVIEW

The core ultimatum of both the perfectionist and the seditionist alike, the squaring confrontation of “improve or cease to exist” stares back upon all species of creator through the water, the mirror and the moonlight that’d unveil the path forward to their boggling eye’d gaze yet this psychotic motivation isn’t such high stakes dramatism for the nihilistic existentialist, the fatalistic futility of all actions having already been assumed. The rare artist arrives within this sliver of an opening in the form of those without fear of death, pre-instilled with the introvert’s talent for rescinding any sense of belonging, and granted some considerable stone-skinned resolve in presentation of singular, convoluted, and amorphous acts which dizzy within a smokiest thread of anti-social, post-apocalyptic freight. A modernity dazed enormity setting its own lumbering waypoint for over a decade now Finnish death metal trio Desolate Shrine offer us a fifth pillar-and-altar along their treading of the endtyme, a journey taken from afar-glowing magisterial domains to the ever-swallowing throat of the absolute abysmal dark. At the end of the day ‘Fires of the Dying World‘ is a massive, experiential death metal record that bears its own singularly monolithic feeling, a record which finds the visionary group shaping the formless spiriting of the past, re-carving and smoothing their established modus with the same detail rich insight and well improved fidelity affecting all related projects of late.

It’ll sound a bit off-key to suggest up front but the music of Desolate Shrine has always left me with the feeling of doom, not so much the edge of the sub-genre (though it does apply at various points in a later-era Bolt Thrower sort of way) but instead as if their songcraft were channeled around a severe feeling that the doomed and decimated ‘self’ had been left wandering in a despairing, coldest state. Formed between ex-members of Sear, Uncreation’s Dawn and Lie In Ruins‘ vocalist in 2010, the Helsinki-borne group were arisen in an age of truly atmospheric death metal advancement as their opening salvo of ‘Tenebrous Towers‘ (2011) delivered an black metal-minded atmospheric with an HM-2 driven ride, a record which was impenetrable and caustic in the best sense. I’d personally grown to like the album quite a bit more compared to the more obviate quotient nearby at the time (see: Horrendous‘ debut) which’d served a period of resurgence for new blood within Finnish death metal beyond the 2000’s. From that starting point their focus on obsidian atmosphere, thicker layers of studio thunder, and muscularly heaped death/doom metal riffing found its basal voicing on ‘The Sanctum of Human Darkness‘ (2012) and their sound would expand its blackened death and very subtly dissonant-edged vision into bigger, most complex pieces, arguably peaking the original doomed thread with ‘Deliverance From the Godless Void‘ (2017), an album I’d loved with some reservations in review. If you already know this discography well of course some expectations for the quality, timbre, and performances of ‘Fires of the Dying World‘ are granted yet I wouldn’t at all consider this just another dirge from ’em.

We’ve not heard from these folks for about five years in terms of releases and likely for the sake of those previously doom-set ideals expanding into main instrumentalist, album cover artist and primary songwriter L.L.‘s funeral death/doom metal group Convocation, which soon took off in delivery of two well-received full-lengths. During this dormancy beyond 2016/2017 the other two fellowes joined Sargeist and soon after records from Lie in Ruins and Ordinance likewise followed; This is important context per my own expectations since those’ve been some of my more favored releases in their respective years. Over the years the thought that the return of Desolate Shrine would be equally as huge as the skill-ups in between became a constant itch in the back of my mind. Simply put, the results here suggest that I was right.

The greater task of ‘Fires of the Dying World‘ in my mind is to draw a clearest line between this band’s signature development and that of Convocation and of course this is not even an issue. The death metal maul presented within the roll of opening piece “Echoes in the Halls of Vanity” is already proof enough, an enraged epic with the grotesque n’ meaty swing of Slugathor-sized tones backing its propulsive nigh ‘Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious‘-esque opening salvo. This is already more percussive and bustling a statement compared to the airy severity of ‘Deliverance From the Godless Void‘ yet the wounding thunder of the band is instantly recognizable as continued expansion beyond Desolate Shrine‘s second release. There is much more to this record than the glom of ‘old school’ death metal that leads things off but I’d been thrilled when they struck right into “The Dying World” beyond the opener, pure conviction and an elastic riff progression which’d serve to wind up for the tank-heavy journey ahead. The black lungs of doom wretch open like wings as the chugging punch of this song soon takes an extended detour unto doom, a simple yet effective lean into force which emphasizes the texture/tone of the rhythm guitars herein. If you liked the latest Cataleptic album as much as I did, expect at least a few songs with a bit of that level of chunkiness applied, atmospheric rather than melodic in style of course but still bearing that deity-sized walloping swagger guided by classic death metal rhythms.

From that point the full-listen gives us its first hill to climb with “The Silent God” a ten minute blackened death ruptured epic bookended by bleakly finger-picked acoustic disarray, reminding the listener that this has always been a notably “modern” death metal project whom yet employ the sensibilities of ancient ones. The sound design here allows for the rhythm guitars to voice quite clearly compared to some of Desolate Shrine‘s previous records yet this doesn’t end up sapping the strength and whorl of their attack, which is really just warming up with “The Silent God” as it presumably ends Side A while that rhythmic thread now extrapolates within the next couple of pieces. “My Undivided Blood” is the portal beyond, the step outside the self worthy of future expansion you’ll find on most every second-half of each Desolate Shrine record, this is of course more of an extreme doom metal paced event and not entirely out of their wheelhouse but an unexpected turn which continues to breathe the zombified dragon breath of “The Silent God” unto an enormous spectacle nearby the end of the album. It’d end up being my favorite piece on the album, and the song to perhaps dissolve my earlier comment about distancing from Convocation‘s general spectrum a bit, as we find the oeuvre expanding before our very ears in stunning form. The grand finale of “The Furnace of Hope” is the type of final cumulative statement you’d expect, unsurprisingly finishing the album with a strong yet not overstated exodus.

Though I’ve made the point well enough that this spectacular fifth ride is of an (expectedly) high quality between notable fidelity, rapturous stylistic angling, atmospheric depth and inspired riffcraft yet the major note I’ve taken from my time with ‘Fires of the Dying World‘ is simply that I’ve found it more memorable than past works. This is largely due to the easier flow of the rhythm guitar arrangements in their spanning between pure death metal aggression, blackened death metal, and death/doom metal but also that these spaces are better defined by adjustments to the overall render of Desolate Shrine‘s sound. The grey-rotten and bulldozed pit of ashes they’ve always been is yet intact, though, and it is worth considering this new record as less of a gawking paradigm shift and more an updated modulation of their core sonic identity, a natural if not belayed progression beyond honored impetus. Beyond that, it is simply a heavy death metal record which plays well on repeat thanks to its darkest, bolder-than-most trip between a variety of climes. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (86/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Fires of the Dying World
LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records
RELEASE DATE:March 25th, 2022

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