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Kind of like Enya crossed with My Dying Bride - 57%

Cheeses_Priced, January 15th, 2006

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.