We all want a powerful underground. The way to achieve that is to be harsh, cruel and unrelenting in our judgment of underground-style bands, or we permit lower quality to become the standard, and then because that is easier, it is what we will get. What we signal we accept becomes the norm. It is essential to be cruel to bullshit releases, and Desolate Shrine The Heart of the Netherworld is tryhard blather that permits introduction of modern metal tropes into old school metal while failing to achieve the power of expression that is the defining factor of old school underground metal.
On its surface, The Heart of the Netherworld is melodic doom-death. Under the surface, it consists of tired chord progressions and techniques worked around utterly repetitive songs which move in a wholly circular fashion and achieve nothing. The vocals pick up the modern metal trope of open-throated riding of the beat, putting the vocal in the lead role and deprecating guitar. That is as well, as no unique or expressive riffs fill this album. Instead, sort of like a slower degraded version of Nile, Desolate Shrine adapt rock riffs and add a few accidentals but tend to focus on a melodic interval accented by a strumming or arpeggiated pattern. The result is a form of churn, both at the riff-level and the song-level, which results in total boredom and directs the focus at the vocals, as if the vocalist were a parasitic organism that took over the brain of this band.
In addition, Desolate Shrine works in a number of modern metal patterns such as the recursive strum, the post-metal drone and (most odious of all) the chromatic ratchet turnaround that bad hardcore bands have been using for what feels like 40 years now. Aesthetically this album is exciting, but once you pop the hood and look inside, you realize it’s not a Mustang but one of those little Fiat microcars that sound like kitchen mixers that have been oiled too frequently. The underground is not a surface flavor; it is a way of composing, and to reach that stage, a way of thinking. Desolate Shrine have not taken the first step on that journey but have stepped off on another route.