It’s the band’s first album but Shrines already has a lot to live up to. Vocalist and guitarist Sam Loynes is also a member of Voices who last year released London – not only the HMO Top Album of 2014 but also the best album to have happened so far this decade.
Shrines’ music is a different beast from Voices and even if their debut doesn’t quite pull itself out of London‘s shadow it shows considerable promise. Blackened tremolo guitars and deathly Morbid Angel riffing weaves seamlessly with spacey prog and Gojira-esque technicality to dreamy effect. The musicians handle the shifting flow of styles with aplomb: Daniel Blackmore’s precise drumming holds everything together while the guitars are crisp and tight. But the album is at its dreamiest with the clean, harmonised vocals of Loynes. They have a beautiful, tremulous and choral quality. While there are long instrumental passages and also gruffer vocals, it’s the clean vocal delivery on tracks like Ariadne’s Thread, The Drowned and the Saved and Broken Man that are the emotional heart of the album and the parts that resonate after listening and draw you back.
I’d have liked to have heard more of the clean vocals, but they do mix well with the growlier parts. It’s no obvious “nice bit/heavy bit” alternation; the whole album threads and winds through its various approaches subtly and magically. But the variation and my preference for the clean vocals does mean some songs are more affecting than others.
Rather like The Antichrist Imperium debut earlier in the year (also featuring Loynes), Shrines is one of the best things I’ve heard in 2015 but it’s not as startling or as fully-realised as London. But neither was Voices’ debut album. This is a strong and captivating debut and I’ll be very keen to hear what Shrines come up with next.