Cambridge death metal fiends, Celestial Sanctuary, produced one of the defining albums of 2021. Their stock in the UK underground metal scene right now is like a big tech company launching an initial public offering (IPO) on the Nasdaq. Expectations are sky-high, and they have the right backing (Church Road Records). Of course, this does not mean that we expect them to play arena tours or shift 10,000 vinyl and CD units for their latest record – this is extreme metal, after all. But they know that the new wave of British death metal needs a figurehead, and they can be that band. They want to be that band. They are that band.
Scream Blast Repeat praised 2021’s Soul Diminished debut, observing that, ‘They may exaggerate the malevolence of their message and take pride in the savagery of their reverb-heavy audio assault, but they always remember that we death metal fans enjoy the air guitar as much as the claw-finger poses and gurning face shapes.’ It seems the guitar duo of Thomas Cronin and Matt Adnett took this as their mantra for album number two. This record is a masterpiece of colossal guitar riffs and savage vocal howls rounded out by the weight of heroic double-kick drums and growling basslines. Opener, ‘Trapped Within the Rank Membrane’, will leave you wondering how the six minutes flashed by in such a short space of time. Brooding death-doom passages ache with pinch harmonic phrasings and whammy bar compressions like the 1991 era when Darkthrone, Edge of Sanity and Therion played unadulterated death metal. Cronin’s vicious pipes spew into the microphone as if trying to rid a stomach full of bleach up through his mouth. Chunky riffs circle around your brain in the vain hope that they can enter it though your skull. Think Obituary but with the guitar tone of Bill Steer (Carcass).
It’s easy to lose sight of two things among this menacing rupture of noise. One, Celestial Sanctuary know how to pluck a groove from this storm of steel. Two, they approach their death metal like Creeping Death – it’s a thrash metal makeover with the tools of the Floridian greats. ‘Glutted with Chunder’ is the type of muscular death-thrash aimed at your headbanging instincts, yet you can also tense your nostrils and expel the disgust from your body in a violent manifestation of hatred for humanity. By contrast, ‘Swivel Eyed and Gurning in the Shadows’, thunders through the blast beats and string-snapping tremolo rhythms while teasing you with a nod to the classic Celtic Frost riff from ‘Procreation of the Wicked’. The plectrum activity is fast enough to produce an unintentional “wah” effect in the hurricane moments. One can only lament how the latest Incantation album would have benefitted from the psychopathic rage of Cronin’s acerbic tongue.
Too much of death metal these days leaves no thought for the vocals. Like Gatecreeper, the boys in Celestial Sanctuary recognise the true efficacy of a gory voice, and they make no apologies for indulging their most savage fantasies. Sometimes, this borders on tongue-in-cheek cliché, yet Cronin’s venomous delivery on ‘Biomineralization (Cell Death)’ is almost a match for the morbid groove metal posturing of the guitars. The same type of gruesome mid-tempo crunch permeates through ‘The Lurid Glow of a Dead, Burning Body’, even to the point where you ask if Celestial Sanctuary might be on to something unique. We know that Obituary operate in a similar paradigm, but their grooves differ from the laser-focused riff penetration of Insatiable Thirst for Torment.
Celestial Sanctuary’s music is an audio spectacle that can accompany the gruesome purgatory art of Ernst Fuchs. That alone leaves you with a morbid curiosity. Add in some of the finest guitar work since Heartwork, and you have a winning formula. Can you guess how closing track, ‘Gutted with a Blunt Blade’, might sound with this in mind?
Release Date: 25/08/2023
Record Label: Church Road Records
Standout tracks: Trapped Within the Rank Membrane; Swivel Eyed and Gurning in the Shadows; Biomineralization (Cell Death)
Suggested Further Listening: Creeping Death – Boundless Domain (2023), The Bleeding – Monokrator (2023), Obituary – Dying of Everything (2023)