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Lack of substance - 65%

karma_sleeper, August 19th, 2008

I’m not sure why people consistently refer to Shape of Despair as funeral doom. If Illusion’s Play is any indication, the band seems to be drifting into more gothic and ambient influences. While not alarming or unfortunate on its own, this fact might disappoint those looking for a more by the books doom release. All in all, Illusion’s Play contains a lot of interesting elements mired by an awkward execution.

The first thing you’ll notice about Illusion’s Play is the heavy handed use of keyboards. The key segments in the two 10 minute plus tracks literally consume half that time and is totally unnecessary. Repetitive keyboard fluff does not automatically equal hauntingly captivating atmospheres of despair. It equals ambient raw sewage. Consider, however, the fact that several of the tracks meld into one another seamlessly and in a sense create a cohesive song broken into parts, and the 8-9 minutes keyboard segments make more sense. While some may find this artistically compelling, fans hungering for more substance will not. The downside to this is that it is difficult to tell one song from the next.

Illusion’s Play thankfully delivers beautiful moments where things come together for excellent results. Pasi at times vocalizes in a subdued clean way with Natalie for some haunting harmonies. Pasi is also not afraid to show off his versatility. His unusually understandable growls make a return and sound better than ever. The drumming may be the standard fare for a doom release, but the guitars punch through everything to produce powerful riffs that stretch on for great anguished lengths. They even manage to stand out on their own at times against those annoying keys for some emotional leads.

And all those good things are part of the problem. There are not enough instances of them. ‘Entwined in Misery’ and ‘Curse Life’ have an atmosphere all their own; one of pain and sadness. And you can feel it. The keyboards and guitars harmonize remarkably well on ‘Entwined in Misery’ and the guitars burst with really engaging segments on ‘Curse Life.’ ‘Fragile Emptiness’ shows what happens when a proper balance between all these elements is achieved and no one instrument over powers another. This track is consistent and droning in all the good ways. But all this is nearly blown apart by those excruciatingly long keyboard segments. Too much fat, not enough meat.

If you want straightforward doom metal, avoid Illusion’s Play. You won’t find enough here to satisfy your palette. If you can look past the gaping holes left by over long keyboard segments and enjoy the good work left behind, you might find something to captivate you if only for a little while. Shape of Despair left us with one album definitely not meant for everyone.