Celestial Sanctuary – Visions of Stagnant Blood EP


Celestial Sanctuary are the great hope for UK death metal. We said of the band’s 2021 debut, that it’s ‘raw and primitive enough to sound like a horde of cannibals with access to electricity, but it also showcases some colossal riffery.’ Last year’s Insatiable Thirst for Torment was just as good, leading us to declare it ‘an audio spectacle that can accompany the gruesome purgatory art of Ernst Fuchs.’ Now, like Tomb Mold and Gate Creeper, they’re ready to experiment, only the experiment here means ramping up the technical aspects of the music and cramming more into the songs. If you’re going to switch your sound, it makes sense to do it on an EP, where the consequences are less severe.

The main problem here is how busy the songs seem when you want to dig into the flesh and blood of their structures. Opener, ‘Visions of Stagnant Blood’, is too impatient. There’s no time to waste when the riffs need to be released and the double-kick drums put through their paces. Celestial Sanctury take the best of Death and the precision of Necrophagist, yet you feel like you’re in a cage being rattled by the evil alter-ego of Santa Claus. This has the effect of leaving you wondering how many of these passages are non-repeating. On second listen, this reviewer counted nine different riffs in three minutes, four of which bludgeon you in the first thirty seconds.

‘Puddles of You Reflect the Filth Within’ is much easier to enjoy. Again, it starts in the fury of extreme metal with an abundance of start-stop guitars and gory vocal projections. Yet they’re much quicker to settle into a down-picking groove as if it’s 2021’s Soul Diminished all over again. Celestial Sanctuary are at their best when operating in this type of mid-tempo crunch. Here, the bass grumbles underneath like a hungry stomach. Listen to the downward scrapes of the guitar strings as they provide the music to motivate the grim reaper in his daily tasks. Unlike his heroes in Bolt Thrower, Thomas Cronin goes out of his way – like Chase Mason of Gatecreeper – to make his voice sound as diabolical and as agonising as possible. The quartet emerge from this song at the half-way point like a band unearthing their greatest Carcass riffs.

The prospect of a ten-minute closing track on an EP of complex musical design does not bode well. But ‘Gavage of the Vile’ has its moments of genuine quality. A gloomy intro of slow forming chords and a lingering pitch bend set the scene for an appointment with the entity who’ll hold you to account for original sin in the next life. You can feel the tormenting heat of the furnace against your flesh here. The death-doom hybrid works for the first four minutes before they accelerate the tempo and test the elasticity of their instruments. It produces a release of tension at 05:40 that’s even more effective, but should this song end at 06:30? The quiet meanderings for one and a half minutes persuade you that there’s nothing to see until the band erupt in the shadow of a nasty doom metal embrace with a wailing lead guitar that exacerbates the foreboding mood with slow whammy bar effects. You can see how they might incorporate this type of longform death metal on their next album, but will that be a wise decision?

Now is an opportune time for Celestial Sanctuary to exercise their experimental impulses, but a whole album of this would be exhausting after four songs. Let’s hope they remember what made their first two records so special when they write the next LP.


Verdict


Release Date: 11/06/2024

Record Label: Self-released

Standout track: Puddles of You Reflect the Filth Within

Suggested Further Listening: Obituary – The End Complete (1992), Gatecreeper – An Unexpected Reality EP (2021), Morta Skuld – Creation Undone (2024)