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Finns are a strange bunch of people; seemingly consisting of two entirely different groups. On one side there's the goatse loving, depraved, drunken finns who never wash and have produced things varying from Beherit to Aeoga to Thergothon to Impious Havoc etc., and on the other, similarly depraved and goatse loving finns who have a bizarre fetish for making the most polished, non-metal metal possible. Think of the most watered down, riffless, weakest metal there is- Nightwish, Korpiklaani, Avi Kounen (whatever his name is).. And with the exception of Agalloch they're all finnish. How this country isn't permanently at threat of a schism or civil war I'll never know; perhaps it's the shared love of a man with a stretched anus that keeps them together.
Anyway, SoD are proudly in the latter group; this is the most polished, new agey, non-funeral doom funeral doom there is, and probably ever will be. It's really strange that a country famous for amazing and unearthly funeral doom would crank out something like this- but lack of sunlight and proximity to Russia would do strange things to anyone.
There is a somewhat unique sound here, sort of, I guess. Get your typical "symphonic power metal" album, say, Nightwish's Century Child, slow it way down and.. well, perhaps it isn't so unique. But really there's a lot of similar hallmarks here- the keyboard symphony (nice tones on this album, btw) supplies 99% of the musical content, generally lite-classical that's weak on harmony and interesting layers and dynamics. There's female and male vocals that float over the top of the stately, despairing mire, and if you listen real closely you can make out forlorn guitar churning out backing chords somewhere in the background of the mix. Unlike their more poppy contemporaries, however, the structures are a bit more jumbled and generally all over the place- for something that's meant to be smooth, soothing and relaxing this rarely has good songwriting. Quiet These Paintings Are being the best example- listen to the really rather awkward symphonic interludes and transitions and you'll see what I mean.
Occaisonally there'll be a melody that will spring out and affect you; the doomed waltz of 'Paintings' being a good example. And while there are indeed moments where the wall of synths, guitar and vocals actually manage to fire up some emotions in me, I can't help but feel that SoD would be a lot better if they ditched the funeral doom and indeed, metal pretentious- thicken up the wall of sound with more orchestral and more textural guitar stuff, shorten the songs (something that needs to be done regardless), drop the growls and become a new age/ethereal type band. It'd be catchier, it'd be easier to listen too (which is likely one of their main aims as is), there'd be no guitars chugging away awkwardly in the background.
..And you could get away more with having less content. For such a layered sounding band there's remarkably little going on here, and the fact that it's stretched out for such a typically long time makes this album a very boring listen indeed. 'Night's Dew' has an absolute nothing, pointless intro lead, the title track a few different lead lines that don't do anywhere near enough to justify the running time. When you get down to it, none of the songs go anywhere beyond the first few minutes, beyond showcasing the keyboardist's excellent taste in synth patches and the solid production values.
That's pretty much it really; it's well produced and sounds soothing to the ears. As background music it's not incredibly hard to listen to, however for concentrated headphones action it's damn near impossible- and really, that's what it's all about. Those interested in this album could be better off checking out Enya or maybe even Mono- they do the whole "stately and rather boring music with sad strings" much better, and their songs actually go places, unlike the ones on this album. Avoid.
(originally reviewed for www.heathenharvest.com)
The first proper funeral doom album I’ve ever heard in full is this, the second album of Finland’s Shape of Despair, and what a despairing album it is. Here is why it is not perfect, but still damn good.
The album is a bit artsy and soft for me, which is why it didn’t get a perfect score, because I do prefer balls to the wall heaviness done correctly – the reason Comatose Vigil got 100% from me. But this is not a review of that album, it’s of this one.
The synthesisers are the first thing that is heard, so I’ll mention them first. They take up the first minute of the opener “Fallen” by themselves, and sadly herein lies one of the records biggest problems virtually straight away – over presence of the synths. After a minute when the guitars and vocals start, it all becomes different, and flows together so brilliantly – everything starts to complement each other. Most of the time this flow is uninterrupted but there’s just a bit too much synth at times.
Drumming is quite standard funeral doom – crushingly slow and very heavy. But, as always, I admire the drummer for keeping up a slow pace with flawless rhythm and fills, when a lesser man would have continuously made mistakes. The bass is audible, resulting in the production being very heavy which is perfect.
I find with most of my musical experiences that the vocals tend to make or break a recording, they always seem to be the worst point of the album or the best – in the case of Angels of Distress, the latter. They are simply brilliant. Pasi’s death vocals are very heavy, but still with that distraught edge required of a doom album. He features just at all the right times, and sometimes is so minimalist in the lyrics that the vocals could almost be “just another instrument” at times. Nathalie, the female vocalist, doesn’t actually sing a word – only choral backing, which is a unique way to tackle the album as it leaves the keyboards free to do other things. The Engrish is fairly bad on this CD, but it can be forgiven as mostly Pasi gets the message across.
Tracks could be a bit longer, this is a funeral doom album after all. Five tracks and not even an hour, and only two of said tracks over ten minutes. This isn’t a problem though for the most part, in fact the best tracks are a couple of the shorter ones;
“Nights Dew” is what made me want to buy this album – the saddest and most beautiful track I’ve heard in a long time, but funnily enough, the fastest song (which isn’t saying much). It’s an instrumental, which is fine – two riffs after the synthesiser opening, and boy, they are soul crushers. An amazing album closer, and this is the song you’d send to friends to get them to listen to the album.
“Fallen” suits as the perfect opener, only four lines of lyrics and a couple of riffs but they’re all that’s necessary here – it doesn’t drag on too much and serves as a good build up for the title track, where things really kick up (or down) a notch.
In summary, while some of the songs on “Angels of Distress” take a bit long to get into, and the solo synth parts can become a burden, it’s really hard to fault this album otherwise.
Once again, a would be great band is hampered by the dreaded "sophomore release", sadly shedding their original style for more generic wares. Far from just aping what is arguably the standard in Funeral Doom, this album does have something to offer, but perhaps only to the completest as opposed to a die hard of the style.
The production is considerably better than the bands debut and this does help to strengthen the songs as a whole. The guitars sound as if they are still tuned to standard and are open chorded throughout the entirety of the recording. The bands flowing riffage is gone however, replaced by the hit one chord and hold it for a few seconds/minutes pattern that seem to dominate much of the Funeral Doom field. There is a fairly menacing vibe to them though as they don't come off as sad or melancholic. They are mixed a little higher as opposed to their predecessor however.
The bass is nonexistent but this doesn't hurt the music. The drums are more standard but fit the dark and angry music well. The keyboards take on more of a lead roll, if it can so be called. They set the tone and the pace for each song. They sound some what cheesy when compared to songs from both their pre and post albums.
The vocals are perhaps the biggest let down of the whole album as Pasi uses a vocal processor to "enhance" his voice. This gets very old after the first song, thankfully however, the vocals are scantly used throughout and the duration of the music is saved thusly. Pasis' wife continues her roll of hitting random high notes and blending in with the keyboards to the point of making one wonder if she's really there or if it is all keyboards.
This could've been a monumental follow up to a brilliant and highly original album in the field of Funeral Doom, but alas it falls short. Its not to say that this doesn't have some originality, but even though the band tried to make this style in their own image its to great a departure to really make logical sense as a progression.
If I could translate my saddest moments into audio, the resulting misery would be coded as Shape Of Despair’s second album, and their magnum opus, Angels Of Distress. This is the best funeral doom metal album I’ve heard so far.
I don’t even fully understand why I like it so much. I think it might have something to do with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts: Standing alone, the female vocals wouldn’t sound as atmospheric as they do, but behind the droning drums, drawn-out guitars, and flowing synths, they sound perfect. And this goes for every other aspect of the album, where they all fit together like a complete jigsaw puzzle.
What Angels Of Distress also shows other up-and-coming doom metal bands is something very important: You do not require to play at agonisingly slow speeds to make quality funeral doom. The final track “Night’s Dew”, is quite rapid, compared to doom metal standards, but the guitar and violin mixed in make it the ultimate closer of this fantastic album. Even the title track seems fast, but it also appears to be one of the more melancholic songs here, particularly at the start.
The vocals are sublime. While this guy could easily work his way into a death metal band, his delivery here is simply marvellous. He’s powerful and emotional at the same time, which is rare for growling. So is his legibility…each word is easily heard, and you can easily follow the lyrics and sing along. What makes his vocals more precious is the fact there are not a lot of them throughout the album…most of “Fallen”, except the very end, is an instrumental, and “Night’s Dew” is a complete instrumental, with large, silent breaks in the middle 3 songs. He’s a very powerful vocalist, and I would love to hear more of him in other funeral doom albums, as he just brings the music to life.
Speaking of music, what we have here are some of the saddest music pieces I’ve heard. The track “…To Live For My Death…” contains the most depressing opening riff I’ve ever heard, which thankfully is repeated at the end of the song. What brings this riff up (or crushes it, whatever you prefer), is the use of the violin. I think if Toni Raehalme was not a part of Shape Of Despair, this album would probably get an 80, tops. Her inclusion ensures that Angels Of Distress is the best, depressing album it could’ve been. My favourite violin section occurs at 14:45 on “…To Live For My Death…”, which makes the riff even sadder, and is quite literally a depressant.
As the only album to make me cry, Angels Of Distress deserves nothing less than the highest possible score. I must admit that by the end of the album, I am emotionally drained. I could commence it happy, but then my happiness would go down exponentially, particularly during the last two songs (whatever shred of happiness you have at the end of “…To Live For My Death…” is stripped away with the closer). Shape Of Despair’s other two albums do not reach the heights that this one does (the debut is too repetitive for me, but, as the reviews state, others can see the joy in it), so this could be the best the band comes up with. All fans of funeral doom must have this album, as it’s a complete masterpiece and deserves the recognition.
Best tracks: All of them.
I once had a conversation with a young lady that revolved around our respective preferences in music, and I declared, with a slight amount of pride, that I had an affinity for dark, depressing music. Naturally, she could not understand why I would choose to listen to something so miserable in tone and not something happier and upbeat. I suppose that, given my own experiences with depression, I would be drawn to such things in music, but I could never understand why people are so reluctant to explore the darker side of life in music. And when I want to do just that, the first album I reach for is "Angels of Distress" by Shape of Despair. I do not give out 100% scores easily, but this album is just so utterly perfect in the evoking everything funeral doom SHOULD evoke that I cannot find fault with it at all.
Quite simply, this album is "the" soundtrack to depression, loneliness, and pain. Sure, bands like Anathema, My Dying Bride or Forgotten Tomb can write depressing as hell lyrics, but Angels of Distress stands alone as the only album that truly captures the essence of depression in the music and songwriting itself. If you've ever experienced the misery of true depression, the emotions and atmosphere evoked by this album will be very familiar to you. This album is pain and misery incarnate, but not the everyday melancholy of existence, and certainly not the "oh, my girlfriend dumped me" kind of pain. No, Shape of Despair, being true to their name, have created an album from the deepest, most unbearable suffering. This is the kind of pain you feel when you have lost everything dear to you and when there is absolutely no hope, no joy, and no happiness left in life.
Angels of Distress begins with opener "Fallen," which starts out with a sinister keyboard line before a mammoth-sized riff crushes whatever hope and joy you had left into dust, yet this track is merely a taste of what is to come. From the moment the title track begins, the listener is carried away by the grinding guitars, the deeply growled vocals of Pasi Koskinen and the ethereal vocals of Natalie Koskinen, which add an almost angelic quality to the proceedings. Combining all these elements together, Angels of Distress perfectly captures the sluggish, miserable, weighted-down feeling of depression, with compositions that ebb and flow but never become boring or repetitive. There's a noticeable classical influence here as well, from the piano opening to "Quiet These Paintings Are" which sounds reminiscent of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, to the violin pieces that provide an elegant counterpoint to the crushing guitar riffs. Keyboards are used tastefully, and never overshadow the guitars or become intrusive. Every instrument is in the exact place it should be; there is no passage that feels too long, too short, or out of place.
The overall image I get when listening to Angels of Distress is being utterly alone in a dark winter's forest underneath a moonless night sky, totally separated from all sources of light, warmth, and happiness. Or when I hear "Quiet These Paintings Are" I imagine myself sitting alone in a darkened manor, looking at the paintings on the wall and imagining all the people I've loved who are now gone. It's this incredible ability to evoke images and emotions that sets Angels of Distress apart from other doom metal offerings, and no place is this more apparent than the 17-minute "...To Live For my Death." It begins with a haunting string melody which then progresses into what has to be the saddest, most despairing melody I've ever heard. Whatever feelings of hope or happiness that you have left will be utterly swept away, and when you hear the first line, "all life...will be gone...soon..." you can just FEEL the hopelessness and despair in the singer's voice, and when Pasi sings "nothing left to feel...nor to understand" he truly sounds as if he's lost the will to live entirely. The album finally comes to end with the instrumental closing track "Night's Down" that's the fastest song on the album, and the only track that provides a ray of hope in contrast to the inescapable blackness that has come before. Contrary to what one might think, when I finish listening to this album, I do not feel depressed or miserable. Rather, the whole experience is quite cathartic, and whenever I'm feeling down and depressed I know precisely what album to listen to.
In terms of production, Angels of Distress is almost flawless. The guitars have the perfect combination of crunch and heaviness, the drums have crispness and force behind them, and everything is mixed at just the right level. For a funeral doom album, I could not ask for better production than this.
If you're the sort of person who's turned off by relentlessly depressing music, than you won't enjoy this, obviously. But if you're drawn to the darker emotions of life, then I challenge you to find a more sorrowful, depressing album out there.
I know that the above statement may seem absurd to many doom metal fans, but it is very true for me. This was the first doom metal album I ever bought, one of the first extreme metal albums I ever bought as well in fact, and even without that considered I cannot help but consider this a classic album in all ways.
Shape of Despair masterfully create a dismal atmosphere, one that has absolutely no light. Although it is not per sey the slowest doom album, it is very slow for the most part, without any influence from the Black Sabbath side of things, and with very minimal influence from My Dying Bride except for a bit of the melodic riffing. Shape of Despair instead craft their songs like classical pieces, using many different elements, layering them, letting them go on and develop, letting the song speak for itself, the words are sometimes clear despite the extremity of the vocal performance, but the music itself speaks in powerful tones of despair, darkness and depression.
The elements that craft these pieces are made up of guitars, a low thumping bass, loud clear perfectly produced drums, atmospheric keyboards and two vocal styles, deep extreme growls and clear beautiful female vocals. Like a lot of doom metal, Shape of Despair have a strange ability to be both hauntingly fragile and yet skull crushingly heavy at the same time. This ability is through every second of this album. From the beginning notes of "Fallen" to the last despairing cries of "Night's Dew" one is confronted with music that is heavy, slow and crushing, yet at the same time, crushing through different ways, a kind of soul crushing beauty. Of course you could say that the body mauling it accomplished by the guitars, bass and drums while the soul crushing is accomplished by the keyboards, violins and female vocals. But then again there are moments where melodic guitar lines rise up and work just as well as the keyboards and violins at bringing a sense of melancholia.
The atmosphere is thick on here. Somehow, Shape of Despair on this album and their first album Shades Of... creates a very natural feeling, as if being lost in a dark thorny fairy tale forest, totally isolated from humanity, surrounded by horrible unhuman beings, lost in despair and desolation. As I understand it the band was indeed inspired by their Finnish wilderness in these early days more so then they are now, so perhaps this explains the strangely natural landscapes of the soul that are traversed listening to this music, landscapes that are however horrifyingly isolated and desolate.
So perhaps all of that explains why this album still, after hearing many other doom metal bands, is my idea of perfection of doom metal. Something about how every element falls into place, how every instrument is played, how every song is composed, sends chills down my spine. And I must say that any fan of funeral doom metal needs this album.
This album is somewhat fascinating to me. I’ve spent more time listening to it in an effort to understand what I don’t like about it than I have to earnestly try to enjoy it. Perhaps it’s a very good album in a style I dislike or a rather weak one in a style that I enjoy; it’s difficult to say which.
Ostensively, this is a funeral doom album. As such, it relies on crawling tempos, waves of keyboards and deep, growling vocals. The prototypical funeral doom bands are Thergothon and Skepticism, both great bands, quite influential and linked musically. Thergothon brought to life Lovecraft’s sense of cosmic despair and impending doom. Skepticism is solemn and mystical.
“Shape of Despair”. “Angels of Distress”. I can’t figure out what either of those phrases means for the life of me, but it’s clear that we’re in realm of somewhat more traditional death doom experience – sadness, depression.
The music bears this out. There are even female vocals, but they’re well performed and not to be held against the band. Even so, be warned: “beautiful” darkness generally just doesn’t work for me for the most part. “Dark” and “disturbing” are like synonyms to me. Shape of Despair is not disturbing. And I think of beauty in music as being synonymous with quality, not a specific kind of sound.
The ethereal, dream-like aspect of this music does appeal to me. The first, relatively brief song gets the album off to a fine start, establishing a drifting but weighty presence - it sounds great, in the choice of keyboard and guitar tones and weight of the gravelly vocals and the full production.
The more it goes on, the less I like it. For better or worse, this is quite simple music. So is Thergothon. So is Skepticism. And I like them. However, there is something frustrating about a band marshalling the full force of a small orchestra, between its many guitar and keyboard parts, and then offering so little complexity. Why does the guitar play almost nothing but backing chords the whole album? I suspect you could heavily strip down Shape of Despair’s sound without actually losing much. In the second-to-last song, there’s a simple, sad little guitar lead that is easily the best bit of the entire album; by the time it hits we’re pretty starved for a voice to rise of up out of the new age morass and do something, other than plod along together in stately lockstep with everything else.
For most of the rest of the album, there’s mostly just one main repetitive melody with lots and lots of backup of little real significance. I tend to forget that I’m listening to it (which makes reviewing it a tricky proposition).
The very last song is a lengthy (seven minutes or so) rock instrumental with a lot of keyboard-only breaks. It has a nice tune, and is probably the best overall song on the album, oddly enough.
Anyhow, Shape of Despair is at the very least one of the best-produced and most professional funeral doom bands. Probably at least worth a look, if they sound like your sort of thing.
Form the cold depths of Finland comes the best thing funeral doom has to offer, Shape of Despair. Shape of Despair shares all the same elements as their fellow funeral doomsters, however they have managed to form the typical funeral doom template into something much bigger and stronger. Shape of Despair manages to create a thick, monstrous wall of sound crushing the listener with gargantuan riffs layered with lush keyboards and female vocals. The atmosphere this creates is incomparable. One can feel the sheer power of loneliness and loss of hope crawl up upon them when listening to this album. Shape of Despair never seems to fail to find extremely interesting riffs, something many funeral doom bands struggle with. Even more then in other styles of metal, the ability to come up with intriguing riffs is crucial to funeral doom, as the riffs are repeated for extended amounts of time. The band is also phenomenal songwriters, as each song has its own unique structure, and each song manages to take the listener on a different journey into the dark depths of the mind. The loss and pain represented here, is far beyond that of loss of a lover or any other everyday pains. It’s a pain reserved for only the purest of suffering.
This album truly contains several of the greatest funeral doom songs ever created. The first song, “Fallen” starts with some dark haunting synths giving the feeling of being on the brink of a very dark world. The listener is then pulled into the world with one brutal growl followed by the first hopeless, crushing riffs. The song moves first through a movement of female vocals, and then one verse of aggressive growls. By the end of the song there’s no question why this band is called Shape of Despair. The title track slowly builds up from a clean guitar and a dreary drum beat to a powerful wall of female vocals, thick riffs, keyboards and violins. The listener is overcome with a feeling of loss as they re confronted with such a phenomenal amount of sorrow all at once. Still there is a fury in the monstrous growls and demolishing riffs that show the anger and frustration that have been caused by this inescapable depression. This song truly captures the essence of what funeral doom is supposed to make the listener feel.
The next is another one of the most phenomenal funeral doom songs ever created, “Quite These Paintings Are”. The song starts out with three minutes of delicate pianos and synths playing a tragic melody of loss. The same feeling is carried over as the crushing agony of loss is brought back as the full band kicks into action, with another tragic dirge. The song then lets up on the constant depression, entering a beautiful, lush, ambient movement only to be pulled into another furious burst of melancholy. This process is repeated one more time. It’s as if one can’t leave this depression no matter how hard they try, they are forever trapped in this abyss. The next song, “To Live For My Death” starts with a very long haunting synth intro, which is followed by some beautiful choir-like clean vocals over but yet another tragic, hopeless riff of loss. The growls eventually come in and the clean vocals just feed into the many layers creating the wall of sound behind the growls. The song then goes through some long keyboard led progressions, which actually show perhaps a slight glimmer of hope, but yet the song ends with the first tragic riff taking over once again. The final track, “Morning Dew” is quit the change up. This instrumental alternates between dark haunting synths to *gasp* a mid paced, semi upbeat riff. This song seems to give the listener a slight feeling of hope, hidden within this world of loss.
With this Shape of Despair’s second album, the band has clearly placed themselves at the forefront of the funeral doom scene. Their uncanny ability to surround the listener with pure walls of emotion is incomparable to anyone else in the genre. No other funeral doom has managed to place these dark emotions as far out in the forefront as Shape of Despair. Whenever people enter my room when I’m listening to this album, a comment is made on how scary, dark, or sad their music is, even by those who usually ignore most of my other metal. This is a tribute to the power Shape of Despair has managed place onto this album.
Shape of Despair is a doom metal band from Finland. I've heard them classified as "funeral doom metal", meaning that they play at the slow marching pace of a funeral.
The overwhelming feeling of this album is one of depression and loss. It's the kind of sorrow that makes me think of someone watching their life's work crashing down around them as they realize that nothing's left. If there is a more depressing band in existence, I'm not sure I want to find out.
The music itself is, of course, very slow paced. The songs spend a lot of time building up to an instrumental crescendo, with each instrument coming in gradually as the song progresses. This rewards the patient listener with an atmospheric and emotional experience, but will bore many people to tears. If you can't listen to slow-paced metal songs, then Shape of Despair will drive you absolutely crazy. But for those who like depressing music (such as myself), this is what you've been looking for.
The keyboards are very prominent and have a film soundtrack sound to them. In my opinion they make the album. The vocals are a slow roar that sound great for this type of music. It's hard to believe that Pasi Koskinen is doing them, but apparently he is. Needless to say, he doesn't sound like he does in Amorphis.
If you like doom metal or depressing music, you can't go wrong with this album. All of the tracks are okay, but "...To Live For my Death..." is probably the best.