Celestial Sanctuary - Insatiable Thirst For Torment (Cover Artwork)

Celestial Sanctuary

Insatiable Thirst For Torment (2023)

Church Road Records

As skewed as my perspective may be, there is objectively a bit of a moment going on in the death metal world right now. The sheer volume of bands that are emerging and releasing music is surely unprecedented. And yet, despite being responsible for some of the godfathers of the genre, the UK has had its fallow periods in terms of truly world-class DM bands. When I consider that fact, it’s even harder to believe that Celestial Sanctuary, self-described members (and arguably spearheads) of the New Wave of British Death Metal (they may have even coined the NWOBDM moniker now I come to think of it), have only been around for such a brief time. Their debut Soul Diminished only arriving in 2021 and their demo having only preceded that by just over a year. Yet here we are, with their second album proper, arriving at a time when the British DM scene has rarely been so buoyant. Can they follow through on the promise that their debut showed and retain their position at the bleeding edge of the scene over here?

Insatiable Thirst For Torment is made up of 8 tracks over 40 minutes, so while the band’s music could never be described as ponderous, it’s certainly not 2-minute grind bursts, either. They have retained elements of the Obituary-adjacent, mid-paced stomping that characterised the debut, which I’m personally very happy about. They also still sound fundamentally like the same band, but beyond that is where it gets more difficult to articulate. Because there is a lot of change compared to the first record. To my ears, there is an almost infinitely greater flair for creating hooks within the riffs, there is a greasy, slimy ambience (which is clearly being aimed for) created by the amalgam of the band’s members which borders on onomatopoeia when you consider song titles such as “Meandering Stream of Foul Fluid” and “Glutted With Chunder”. Even beyond the musicianship, the production also pulls in the same direction, not creating the oft-cited cavernous feel of the gnarliest modern death metal, so much as a faintly iridescent, dank pit, walls dripping in a malign ooze and playing host to some foul beast. The fact that the record conjures up that specific image while I’m writing this speaks to how evocative it genuinely is.

On a more technical level, the songwriting is in a completely different league to the debut. Though this may be an unpopular opinion, I found the first record to occasionally be somewhat meandering and this record could hardly be further away from that particular adjective. When the pace slows, it hits hard with grooves as deep as the Mariana Trench. When they pick up the pace, it has the exact impact that a turn of pace is meant to have. When riffs are peppered with pinch harmonics, it only deepens the immersion in the world Celestial Sanctuary want you to inhabit. It’s only fair to single out guitarist/vocalist Tom Cronin at this point, because he has moved from being the frontman of a death metal band into someone with a truly unique combination of vocal and guitar styles. The Eastern influences in some of the guitar work, the dynamic shift in hoarse, low register vocals to more prominent and abrasive techniques, the vastly greater complexity in song structures (I appreciate that won’t be all Tom’s work, of course) and more besides. This is one of the biggest step-ups from a debut to a second record I can remember in some time.

I liked the first record, but truth be told I was less enamoured with it than some of my contemporaries and I did feel like I was missing out on something. So, I couldn’t be happier that I love this record as much as I do. Given the band have (in their short active period that was also hampered by Covid) already played with the likes of Cattle Decapitation, Sanguisugabogg, Obituary, Ingested, Undeath - and most recently, Frozen Soul - it did feel like I was the one on the outside of the party and looking in, on the first album cycle. But believe you me, it might be a grimy, rancid pit of slime and unspeakable filth in that party this time around, but I’m throwing myself in headlong. And I get the feeling there are a lot of people who will follow suit once they’ve heard this record.