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The real Danse Macabre, in 6/8 - 88%

Napero, December 22nd, 2018
Written based on this version: 2016, Digital, Season of Mist (Bandcamp)

Shape of Despair is interesting. While making it into the big leagues might be impossible with a sort of a waltzy-ish, melodic, and extremely atmospheric doom metal bordering on funeral doom, they still seem to be much better known that what their record sales might suggest. Sure, they are not the first band a new metalhead gets to know, and not even a gateway band to a vast majority of those who develop a taste for the doomier end of the metal spectrum, but sooner or later fans of Finnish metal and more hardcore doom connoisseurs will inevitably find themselves sampling or even familiarizing themselves with the band. And yet, even with their impact on the subgenre, they remain a well-know curiosity, rather than a famous band.

Alone in the Mist was originally the band's first demo, recorded already in 1998, but it remained officially unpublished, and was finally released officially in 2016 on a special 1000-copy CD. There are two very interesting facets about the release: first of all, while it shares four out of its six tracks with the official debut, Shades of..., it sounds better and more cohesive, actually beating the debut in quality. Sure, the drums sound tinny, and there was still work to be done, but somehow, as a whole package, the demo sound is more enjoyable and subjectively more immersive than Shades of.... Perhaps the order of the tracks is more logical from a listener's point of view, or maybe only getting to hear this after being heavily bathed in the 6/8 rudeness of Shades of..., and having thereby gotten used to the nihilistic beauty before helped?

Second, it does not really feel like a demo. No matter what the circumstances might have been, Alone in the Mist would easily have worked as an official debut full-length. There was wisdom in re-recording and including the said four tracks on Shades of..., adding just the perhaps more developed "Sylvan-Night" on the track list. Whatever the debut's quality and fame are, Alone in the Mist would still be a completely credible studio album today. The genre is alive and well, as the recognition the new Monotony Fields has garnered, but Alone in the Mist, with perhaps a deeper and heavier sound, would have been capable of virtually the same impact. It is a very good album even as it is.

Alone in the Mist is bound to remain a curiosity in the Shape of Despair discography, but it is a release worth checking out if the band's other output turns out palatable. The lowish number of copies means the CD might be slightly pricey in a few years, but as the 52 minutes are easy to find on YouTube, there's no reason not to hear it. It just might make you waltz with the dead with glee.