American black metal act Shroud of Despondency really blew me away with 2011's Dark Meditations in Monastic Seclusion, and just under a year later, the band has already created their next black metal opus. Entitled Pine, this observation once again shows Rory Heikkila and company exploring the realms of bleak, nature-inspired black metal, but this time around their approach is slightly more eclectic. Whereas Dark Meditations in Monastic Seclusion mainly saw the group dabbling in folky black metal territory, this album offers a more one-of-a-kind mix of black metal, death metal, folk, progressive rock, doom metal, and post rock of the utmost quality. Pine is a very successful album in my eyes that, while still maintaining all the great things about Shroud of Despondency's previous efforts, shows a distinct evolution in the group's music.
Of course, the Shroud of Despondency's core sound is still rooted in folk-influenced black metal, but I think the more eclectic approach on Pine gives the band a totally unique identity. Whilst the variety of styles explored throughout this 58 minute album may initially seem incoherent, well-written songwriting ties the various ideas together quite nicely. The lovely "Unchaining of an Animal", for example, sounds like something that could've easily been off of a record from The Decemberists, and it serves as a refreshing change of pace from the lethal extreme metal of the rest of the CD. This, along with other ventures into prog and folk territory, are really what makes Shroud of Despondency's music so powerful, and I find myself constantly engaged throughout Pine's entire duration.
Initially I was a bit disappointed by this album, but after a few listens Pine really began to grow on me - now I actually consider this to be a small step above Dark Meditations in Monastic Seclusion, which certainly is no small feat. If there's one band in the American black metal underground worth your attention, it may very well be Shroud of Despondency. This is top-notch stuff, and anyone with a desire for some folky, forward-thinking black metal owes it to themselves to check out Pine.
1. Wanderlust (Winged Seed in the Breeze)
3. New Trees
4. Wanderlust (Moist Soil)
5. The Great Sadness Descends
6. Half Open Gates
7. Wanderlust (Seedling)
8. Light Words, Dark Graves
9. Nameless End
10. Wanderlust (Lightning Precedes Fire)
11. The Unchaining of an Animal