Album Title: Churches Without Saints
Label: Metal Blade Records
Date of Release: 4 June 2021
A second review in as many days for a German band, but the contrast could hardly be more pronounced. From the up-tempo, upbeat and melodic stylings of power metal stalwarts Helloween, to ‘Churches Without Saints’, a blackened thrash metal album from the similarly long lasting Desaster, that displays all the finesse of a bull in a china shop. Despite being active since 1989, this is my first exposure to Desaster and my first thought when I listened to this record was ‘are they a serious band?’
We’re not talking the overt visual silliness of a Gwar or the lyrical hijinks of a Steel Panther, but there’s a definite touch of the tongue-in-cheek about Desaster, as they seek to cram as much heavy metal excess into just about every song on this record. Think of an extreme metal cliché, and it’s more than likely present and correct somewhere within ‘Churches Without Saints’. You want blastbeats, you get them. You want galloping tempos, you get them. You want speed, you’ve got it. You want big riffs, you get them. You want some melody, you can have it. You want a vocalist that can growl, you can have that too. In fact, in the shape of Satanic, you have a vocalist that can growl, gurn, spew, snarl, and spit the lyrics in any way required to make the maximum impact. There’s even the sound of a woman walking in high heels to usher in the rampaging and thunderous song ‘Hellputa’. Clearly, these Germans don’t take themselves too seriously, and this comes across in the music that they create.
Not being the biggest fan of bands like Sodom, Destruction and Overkill, I really didn’t think I liked this album after the first couple of spins. I also wasn’t too enamoured with the lo-fi, muddy, and congested production either. However, it wasn’t too long before the charms of Desaster started to have an effect on me. I’m not going to sit here and say that ‘Churches Without Saints’ is going to be up there with the very best at the end of the year, but it is an album that is worthy of some attention. It is heavy, excessive, and unashamedly underground in the best way possible.
Standout tracks include ‘Learn To Love The Void’, the title track, and ‘Primordial Obscurity’ to name a hefty trio. ‘Learn To Love The Void’ kicks in after a somewhat wasted, pointless intro piece, but makes an instant impact. The pace is furious and the black-tinged riff is immediately engaging, as are the lead embellishments that compliment the ferocious metal tumult. The injection of classic metal lead guitar melody is a nice touch as the song matures too.
The title track slows the pace down and demonstrates that Desaster are just as adept when they’re not travelling at a thousand miles an hour. Beginning with that other clichéd sound of a tolling bell, there’s a hint of old school doom in the air, as well as a heightened sense of darkened atmosphere. The melodies are simple and effective, building towards what becomes a wonderfully catchy, not to mention slightly epic, closing sequence.
Speaking of catchy, look no further than ‘Primordial Obscurity’ in order to get your fix. The opening is insanely fast, threatening to spiral out of control in a flurry of blastbeats and fast-picked riffing. It therefore comes as a surprise when the attack slows appreciably, to be replaced a seriously groovy, melodic approach that reeks of classic 80s heavy metal in the finest of ways. My head nods, I feel the need to raise the horns, and I feel sixteen again…sort of.
The intro to ‘Armed Architects of Annihilation’ is also great, coupling some of the dirtiest bass sounds with a groovy, catchy guitar riff, whilst the lengthier ‘Endless Awakening’ introduces acoustic guitars, whilst using its extended seven-minute-plus lifespan to explore the entire Desaster repertoire, from all-out speedy attack to slower groove, and from understated melody to uncompromising brutality.
All-in-all, it is hard to criticise ‘Churches Without Saints’ too much. It isn’t perfect and it may not be the kind of music that I will want to listen to on a daily basis for that matter. However, the guys in Desaster know exactly what they are doing, and they do it very well. As such, ‘Churches Without Saints’ offers just over 45 minutes of genuine entertainment, excess, and aggressive blackened thrash fun.
The Score of Much Metal: 82%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: