Cambridge is known for many things including its university and annual boat race, but death metal hasn’t ever been one of them. While it might not have been their intention initially, Celestial Sanctuary are about to put Cambridge on the extreme metal map in a big way with their debut album Soul Diminished. While they themselves are a new band, only forming in 2019, their sound is unashamedly old school as one of the many bands rehashing the older sound pioneered by bands from Death to Obituary and Morbid Angel, though Celestial Sanctuary take care to update their sound somewhat for the modern era. It’s rough around the edges certainly, but this comes from a deliberate choice to create a raw atmosphere instead of poor production as it might once have been.
Opening with the frenetic buzzsaw riffing of ‘Rid The Gormless’, Celestial Sanctuary immediately make known what they’re about. Tomas Cronin’s caustic vocals are cavernous and sit atop the furious guitar work and breakneck drumming, all with a palpable sense of urgency. The title track follows and sits in immediate contrast. The mid-paced stomp and thunderous, doomy groove features harmonic squeals; it’s heavy enough to crack mountains and incredibly catchy.
A good number of the tracks here make use of more middling tempos like the churning heft of ‘Wretched Habits’, but they’re also unafraid to switch tempos for variety and to hold interest. The aforementioned ‘Wretched Habits’ does this partway through with a blastbeat break, while ‘Relentless Savagery’ opens at speed with squealing harmonics in the riffing before segueing into a monolithic death/doom segment. ‘Suffer Your Sentience’ is an easy highlight sitting midway through the album, with its intro exuding menace and once more utilising that stomping groove though this has a hardcore swagger all its own, drawing on Hatebreed as much as it does Morbid Angel.
While the band’s DNA is unapologetically old-school, they aren’t afraid to try a few new tricks either; ‘Yearn For The Rot’, despite the moment being brief, makes use of a menacing acoustic opening motif and ‘Formless Entity’, the outro, is an instrumental with pounding, warlike drums atop haunting synths. There’s also a hardcore sensibility throughout, one that’s felt more than heard. It’s there in the simplicity and open space of songs that demand fists be swung in sweaty pits in the dingiest of venues and it’s there in the no-frills, no bluster attitude Celestial Sanctuary exudes in spades.
A sentence that’s being written increasingly often - and one that hints at just how good the underground and emerging talent are - is that this is remarkably mature for a debut. The songwriting is tight, the riffs are consistently stink-face inducing and demand attention. Not only that but at 37 minutes, the band already knows how to get in, brutalise, and get out again all without overstaying their welcome. Soul Diminished might only be their first full-length but it marks Celestial Sanctuary out as ones with a very bright, putrid future ahead of them.
Soul Diminished is out March 26th via Church Road Records