Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

Very beautiful, very sad - 91%

Napero, March 25th, 2005

I believe Pasi Koskinen is among the top 5 most versatile vocalists in metal ever. While he probably isn't even close to such single-style superlatives as "most brutal" or "best clean singer" titles, he seems to control all possible shades of male vocals from the clean singing he has displayed in Amorphis, via the extremely coarse abrasiveness of Ajattara, to the death grunts and growls on other, older Amorphis releases. Even the more grinding hardcore-tinged brutalism of To Separate The Flesh From The Bones seems to be a natural task for him, although in my ranking, Ajattara has the most throat-scraping, cheese-grater-swallowing vocals Koskinen has ever done. This band, Shape Of Despair, gives him the opportunity to display his prowess in the very opposite ends of the spectrum, from the coarse blackish to the clean "choir-boy" singing.

I've never been a really great fan of doom metal. I did listen to quite a lot of Candlemass in the late 80's and early 90's, but somehow, even they, the grand masters of doom, couldn't ignite a real interest in the genre. Ancient Dreams was a good attempt in utilizing the idea of a slow, dooming atmosphere, but it still lacked the spark that I need to really get interested in something; to me, Candlemass seemed to be trapped in its own idea of slowness, making basically good music, but ultimately unable to squeeze the last, sweetest drop of effect from the concept. Now, Shape Of Despair finally finds that spark, with a relatively obvious recipe: they give up the too restricting setup of a pure metal band, and add other instruments, several vocal styles, and outstanding keyboards to create a true atmospheric feeling of sadness and despair. I must admit I love it.

A considerable portion of the Illusion's Play consists of slow keyboard parts, even to the extent that makes me question whether they keyboards are the main instrument of the band. As can be expected in any kind of doom metal, the guitars, bass and drums never achieve any fireworks of virtuocity, but simply provide a solid foundation to build on, and the keyboards then do the building. After that, the extremely atmospheric vocals finish the whole. In addition to the basic metal line-up and keyboards, a violin and a kantele (remember Amorphis) are included, all this adding up to a magnificient total. These alien instruments aren't overused; in my very, very humble opinion, a violin used all the way through a metal album usually gets annoying and loses its novelty effect, resulting in a diminshed will to listen to the album again.

How to describe the sound and music? Well, it would be easy to say that the album consists of slow, semi-ambient doom metal with a lot of different instruments, synths and several vocal styles; layers of slow keyboards often turn music into hypnotic and ambient. That doesn't happen here, however, as the music is simply too good to remain in ambience. If you put Illusion's Play in the player, you're bound to listen to it, it refuses to stay in the background and demands attention. The things I felt were missing in the Ancient Dreams are there, the slowness and sadness of the music has been turned into a strength instead of a voluntary penalty box to remain inside. Don't use this as a background music while working or doing something important, it will fragment your concentration and make your thoughts wander.

This isn't the slowest doom metal there is, not by a long shot. At no point during the hour of music does the listener get bored. There's never a moment when it seems inevitable that the next beat on the drum might arrive next year, possibly on a sunny Wednesday sometime in June. No, the music flows on all through the album, sometimes with a viscous slowness, but never halting. The vocals have one of the greatest variances I've ever met on a metal album. Pasi Koskinen sings both very soft clean vocals and growls in the spirit of Ajattara. Nathalie Koskinen (his wife?) is possibly less of a multitalented vocalist, but her ethereal voice is excellent in it's sadness, and occasionally reminds me of Enya (as if I knew something about Enya... this just a vague recollection, as I've only heard a couple of her songs in the late Middle Ages). Both are essential to the sound of Shape Of Despair. For a stylish spice, there's a fair dash of gothic feeling mixed in, but not too much. And I mean gothic feeling, not gothic rock.

Like on most non-thrash albums I like, one of the defining characteristics of Illusion's Play is contrast. There are several elements opposing each other: vocals vary from male growling to beutiful female clean singing, the sometimes sleepy keyboards are balanced by metal guitars, and acoustic instruments counter both the synths and the metal section of the band. Contrast is a very effective concept, but requires skill to execute properly. Shape of Despair doesn't fail. While it is rewarding when a more difficult album finally lets you understand its soul after patient listening, Illusion's Play takes the listener's hand and guides him through the process. There are deeper -and even darker- undertones, but before they reveal themselves, even a scrape on the surface reveals a true musical gem, and there's no need for excessive patience. The experience simply deepens every time. This album will likely stay on my playlist for a long time to come, and I'm unable to find anything to really whine about. Illusion's Play is very close to perfection.

Summary: if you're looking for an album of very sad and atmospheric doom metal, this is a very good choice. The band conveys the feelings of sadness, despair and loss, and there's nothing you can do to stop them from afflicting you.

By the way, I think Shape Of Despair would be truly outstanding music for some kind of a movie. It would fit either something in the style of The Crow, or possibly a good, dark mainstream horror flick, along the lines of the classic Prince of Darkness, or even the magnificient Nosferatu with Klaus Kinski in it. Think about it.