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Review

Celestial Sanctuary – Soul Diminished Review

Band: Celestial Sanctuary
Album: Soul Diminished
Label: Redefining Darkness Records, Church Road Records
Genre: Death Metal
Country: UK
Release Date: March 26th, 2021
For Fans Of: Bolt Thrower, Benediction, Katabasis

The New Wave of British Death Metal has arrived.

No, seriously.

Celestial Sanctuary emerged from Cambridge, England without warning in late 2019. Their Mass Extinction demo was a clear statement that the band would explore themes surrounding humanity’s destructive nature. They bill themselves as the New Wave of British Death Metal with a cheeky grin, but the truth is no joke. On Soul Diminished, the group’s first full-length release, Celestial Sanctuary is unafraid to inject elements of doom and punk into the vocabulary of traditional UK death metal to create a fresh sound that is somehow raw and blunt and slick all at once.

Soul Diminished is a hellish musical tale about a soul trapped inside a body against its will, gaining awareness, then gaining awareness of that awareness, then ultimately going mad from the painful truth that everything is predetermined by a nameless, faceless master. So bring the kids. This story is brought to surreal visual life with a painted cover by Wyrmwork, whose signature velvety gloom sets a chilling tone for the existential onslaught to come.

Soul Diminished immediately demands attention with the opening track, “Ride the Gormless.” (Yes, that is a real word. You can Google it.) Disparate clues hint that this is a reimagined style of death metal, from the ride flourishes of drummer James Burke, to sudden two-bar half-tempo grooves that feel like cinematic, slow motion camera shots. String noise on the left-panned guitar is the first of many subtle punk textures that greases the album’s otherwise blunt edges. But the coolest surprise comes around the 1:20 mark when Thomas Chronin’s chalky vocal splits into two, with a low fry scream panned right and a high fry scream panned left, creating the effect that he’s whispering in your ears like an evil, death metal-version of the “angel and devil on your shoulder” trope. 

If you had to describe the title track of Soul Diminished in two words, they would likely be “pick” and “squeal.” Guitarists Chronin and Adnett dig into this classic picking technique with the intensity of powerlifters shoveling their own graves. Seriously, Zakk Wylde himself would tremble at the sound. These perfectly-timed squeals continue without mercy throughout the entire album like giant, unapologetic middle fingers. Like many tracks on the album, the mid-tempo trudge of “Soul Diminished” brings with it the hefty weight of doom metal, but not so much that it drags into plodding death-doom speeds.

Refreshing surprises never stop on Soul Diminished. From fretless bass, to flitting cymbals, to stomp-along beats right out of “We Will Rock You,” you would be hard-pressed to find a predictable four bars on the first eight tracks. The highlight of the album arrives with the mind-blowing “Mass Extinction,” when the drums and guitars almost trade “chugga chuggas” before erupting into an unrelenting, thrash-inspired scorcher that somehow mutates into a thundering shuffle at the end.

It is so, so fun.

But remember, Celestial Sanctuary is telling a story with Soul Diminished, a story that’s actually not supposed to be fun at all. And here lies the album’s only weakness: the story’s resolution comes at the expense of a colossal, head-bangning finale. The last track is called “Formless Eternity,” and boy, is “formless” an understatement. To dramatize the main character’s final surrender to a complete lack of free will, the guitars repeat a low, droning riff that sounds like someone trying to learn the intro to Megadeth’s “Trust.” The album’s thrilling momentum slows to an end with a meandering stutter. This won’t be a problem if you like atmospheric noodling, if you’re listening to single songs, or if you’re emotionally invested in the main character’s existential tragedy. But if you value monster grooves over morose narratives, you might feel cheated.

Overall, though, this album can’t be recommended enough. If you dig bands like Bolt Thrower or Benediction, if you’re curious about the New Wave of British Death Metal, or if for some reason you read a lot of Kierkegaard, do yourself a favor and listen to Soul Diminished right now. It’ll be the best decision you’ve made in a long time.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklist:

  1. Rid Gormless
  2. Soul Diminished
  3. Relentless Savagery
  4. Wretched Habits
  5. Suffer Your Sentience
  6. Mass Extinction
  7. Yearn for the Rot
  8. Endless Chasm
  9. Formless Eternity

Total Playing Time: 37:24

Click here to visit Celestial Sanctuary’s Bandcamp

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