Review: Dark Sanctuary ‘Cernunnos’

Dark Sanctuary formed in 1996 in Paris, France and consist of Dame Pandora – vocals, Arkdae – keyboards/guitars, Hylgaryss – keyboards/guitars, Sombre Cÿr – bass/percussion and Alexis on percussion. Cernunnos is the band’s eighth full-length album to date and follows their Iterum EP which was released in November 2021.

Dark Sanctuary 'Cernunnos'
Dark Sanctuary ‘Cernunnos’ Artwork

According to the promotional notes, the album’s title is a reference to the ancient Gaulish god who ‘embodied the biological cycle of nature, simultaneously reflecting life and death, germination and decay, like the deer, the animal that represents him, who loses its antlers in winter to recover them in spring’ and the album’s artwork certainly signifies this.

Mater Oceanum features elegiac strings and piano as well as the divine vocals of Dame Pandora. I’ll admit that the latter’s operatic style were a little off-putting at first, especially as my previous reference points were Evanescence and Nightwish. My fears were soon allayed however once the emotion conveyed was such, that my curiosity had been piqued and I was thus persuaded to persevere with the rest of the album.

Les Dernières Gouttes De Pluie feels more stripped down with less drama and a vocal performance that reminds one of the gothic folk melancholia of Plum Green. The track is instilled with a dreamier quality and hence sits a little better with me. Gloria Eterna represents a fascinating change-up and an ominous vibe that wouldn’t have been out of place on Celtic Frost’s Into The Pandemonium. The vocals are more peripheral as opposed to dominating which helped to add a new-found subtly, a superb track.

elegiac strings and piano as well as the divine vocals of Dame Pandora…

From my research Yksin is the Finnish adverb for ‘alone’ and considering the tone of the track, is probably quite apt. It feels positively despairing and hence ideally suited to any number of Scandi Noir Crime dramas (The Bridge, The Killing) that have become so popular in recent years, featuring more often than not a morose detective. Cerunnos reminds me of the work of Wardruna and the dark ambient folk vibes of that band. Tribal drumming and disembodied shamanic vocals, the hallmarks are there and all the better for it.

According to Greek legend, the Asphodèle ‘is one of the most famous of the plants connected with the dead and the underworld’ (thanks Wikipedia), and it indeed seems like a track that would be used at a wake in the way it both mourns the deceased’s life but also commemorates it. Hiems quiet male spoken word section is underpinned by Dame Pandora‘s powerfully panoramic vocals and imbues the track with an epic streak reminiscent once again of the aforementioned Celtic Frost during their more experimental moments.

Ma Plainte reminds one of a far more effective version of Glenn Danzig’s ambitious neo-classical darkwave project Black Aria while Sólstöður (solstice) has a paganistic quality that’s ideally suited to the soundtracks of The Wicker Man, Kill List and Midsommar. As a fan of that style, I can say this number certainly ticked a few of my boxes. Un Jour is a piece guaranteed to melt the most jaded and cynical of hearts, including that of yours truly while La Fin D’Une me (vers un nouveau rêve) is a blissful instrumental that helps conclude the album in a restrained fashion that stands in stark contrast to the more bombastic opener.

Comfort zones are there to be strayed out of and never was this more evident than with Cernunnos. Like a lot of classically influenced music, I admit to feeling a little out of my depth while reviewing it and can only hope that I managed to do this exquisitely crafted album at least some small measure of justice.

Label: Avantgarde Music
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp

Scribed by: Reza Mills