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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.