Desaster – Churches Without Saints (Album Review)

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Thrash permeates the unrelenting blackness.

There is something to be said for subtlety when it comes to extreme metal and the sense of horror it tends to evoke, and more often than not this notion tends to be sidestepped by many looking to fixate on cartoonish degrees of violence and gore. This more nuanced approach can be traced back to the earliest adherents of the style in the 80s, who would often pair occasional depictions of violent imagery with a more varied pallet of terrors, including but not limited to the abstract concepts of war, the occult and darkness. Religious imagery was also a common trope among prime movers such as Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer, and it is from this primordial well that German blackened thrashers Desaster have continually drawn since their 1989 inception. To this day theirs has been a quest to reaffirm the practices of this seemingly bygone era, sticking close to the sonic aesthetic and lyrical stylings of Sarcofago and Bathory, while also keeping a sound that is fairly current and in line with contemporary adherents of this niche such as Australia’s Destroyer 666 and the more thrashing Norwegian outfit Aura Noir.

True to form, their latest studio installment dubbed “Churches Without Saints” is a fairly typical excursion into the world of theological darkness, accompanied by a sonic aesthetic that is raw and black as pitch, yet generally smoother and less crackling than the frostbitten aesthetic typical of Northern Europe’s second wave. Atmosphere is a integral part of the equation at work here, and a haunting one is established with a dreary orchestral prelude in “The Grace Of Sin”, playing off a minimalist piano line and a somber mix of stringed and wind instruments. This short segue into darkened ugliness is immediately chased by a biting monster of a thrasher in “Learn To Love The Void” that sounds like the long lost bastard son of mid-80s Slayer and Bathory’s “Under The Sign Of The Black Mark.” The only real deviation from the aforementioned vintage sound is a more 90s melodic segment at the song’s middle section that has a bit more of a classic Darkthrone character to it, and the guttural mutterings of helmsman Sataniac sound fairly close to Nocturno Culto, albeit slightly more exaggerated.

Although the typical approach to an album of this sort involves a slight tapering off after the fever pitch that is established on the opening song, as things progress it becomes clear that the apex point has yet to be hit. The riff happy mayhem of “Failing Trinity” ups the ante further on the speed front and has an even more agitated mix of thrashing and occasionally blasting drums lines and biting guitars, ditto the Sodom-inspired swift-thrashing violence of “Hellputa” and the almost Destruction-like impact factor of “Armed Architects Of Annihilation”. Generally the shorter the songs are, the more closely tied to the Teutonic thrash sound they tend to be, while somewhat longer offerings such as the coasting title song “Churches Without Saints” and the almost folksy sounding epic and Immortal-inspired “Endless Awakening” have more of a pure black metal character that dovetails fairly closely with the more melodic and somber Swedish and Norwegian sound. Likewise, moderate length crushers such as “Sadistic Salvation” and “Primordial Obscurity” are generally where the melodic blackness and riff-steeped thrash coexist the most equally within individual songs.

For those who have consistently followed Desaster’s 30 years plus career in carrying on the traditions set forth by the earliest incarnation of extreme metal, this is yet another in a consistent succession of new releases that now spans 9 full length LPs. Though only founder and guitarist Infernal and longtime fellow traveler and bassist Odin have been in the fold since the release of their 1996 debut “A Touch Of Medieval Darkness,” the stylistic demeanor on display here is not that much of a far cry from their formative period, though naturally the production quality is a bit clearer and the imagery of the album art a bit more vivid. There aren’t really any dull moments to be found here, save maybe the somewhat overlong and almost new wave influenced outro “Aus Asche”, which just sort of drones along for 2 minutes on a spacey clean guitar line and a series of whispered vocalizations. It doesn’t quite match the distinctive charm of their first few releases, but for those who like a side order of Dissection to go with their Sodom and early Bathory, one could do far worse.

Released By: Metal Blade Records
Released On: June 4th, 2021
Genre: Blackened Thrash

Musicians:

  • Infernal / Guitars
  • Odin / Bass
  • Sataniac / Vocals
  • Hont / Drums

“Churches Without Saints” track listing:

8.6 Excellent

Continuing to walk the same path of a primordial sound where thrash, death and black metal were joined at the hip since their 1989 inception, this quartet of infernal Teutonic soldiers unleash another installment of raw, riff happy bombardments after a 5 year studio hiatus.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 8.5
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 8.5
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