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Shape of Despair: Return to the Void

Many people experience times when nothing seems right, and everything seems pointless. Sometimes, these feelings lead to a sense of hopelessness, meaninglessness and despair. This album begins with those feelings, but it layers them with sounds that evoke a solitary journey through a dense and cold place. This journey is necessarily slow, and it may not lead anywhere in particular, but it never lacks for power, introspection, and the occasional glimmer of hope.

Some readers might bristle at my suggestion of hope. Shape of Despair, after all, is a Funeral Doom band and their music isn’t supposed to brighten one’s spirits, let alone one’s path. And yet, I can’t help but hear the occasional sense that there is something pulling us away from the void long enough to keep forging ahead, at least for now. If it isn’t hope, at least it is a willingness to believe there is something beautiful one can spot within the gloom. This shows up as the suggestion of a glimmer of light in the cold waste or as a landscape opening before us. Whatever it is, it sets the mind forward even in the face of awful despair.

This is the band’s first album since 2015, but don’t call it a comeback. It’s just time for the album, nothing more. Besides, these musicians are rarely still. They are involved with several other projects, and they like to take their time with the writing process. And, as with their prior work, this one was worth waiting for. The production sounds terrific and it captures the band’s sound, its layered depths and glimpses or beauty, effectively. The vocals were especially clear and strong in just the right ways. Even the low growls have an excellent tone.

The compositions here also never disappoint. They all blend despair with heaviness in just the right ways. Even though the band has changed here and there over the years, this album recalls their earlier years when they were finding their footing and developing their sound. Now that the band is more established, they can afford to reflect on what makes their sound work so well.

I loved the whole album, but I was especially fond of the title track, “Return to the Void.” The sound has a many-layered quality that I liked. Natalie Koskinen’s vocals are especially good here. She brings a touch of grace to an otherwise bleak soundscape. She’s always great on her own, but if you want to hear some excellent harmonizing, check out “Solitary Downfall.” Koskinen and Henri Koivula not only create some beautiful harmonies, but they also draw out a keen sense of melancholy tinged with a barely-there growl. This might be some of the band’s best work.

The first few tracks are enough to recommend this album, but the good news is that the second half might be even better. “Reflection in Slow Time” opens with more of Koskinen’s vocals and then draws listeners down a slow and melancholy path. I love the low growling here and elsewhere on the album. The band uses it to enrich the overall texture and they alternate it with Koskinen’s brighter vocals perfectly. Some bands overplay the beauty and the beast style of singing. Shape of Despair knows how to reign in the differences in timbre in ways that are particularly striking.

“Forfeit” is largely drawn from the same cloth as “Reflection in Slow Time,” but it slows down in the middle long enough for listeners to take a look around. Koskinen, once again, uses her voice to create a sense of expansiveness. Album closer “The Inner Desolation” is just as interesting. A slightly longer track, it has at least three different sections that suggest various shades of despair until things end with Koskinen singing with a mix of melancholy and longing.

With Spring just coming on, you might not want to return to the cold, but this album is nevertheless worth checking out.

Track Listing:
1. Return to the Void
2. Dissolution
3. Solitary Downfall
4. Reflection in Slow Time
5. Forfeit
6. The Inner Desolation

Added: April 19th 2022
Reviewer: Carl Sederholm
Score:
Related Link: Bandcamp Page
Hits: 308
Language: english

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