Review by Sonny for Shape of Despair - Return to the Void (2022) Review by Sonny for Shape of Despair - Return to the Void (2022)

Sonny Sonny / March 02, 2022 / 1

Shape of Despair return with merely their fifth album in twenty-two years and their first since 2015's Monotony Fields, but what they lack in quantity they make up for in quality. Now I don't think anyone can accuse Shape of Despair of being the heaviest of Funeral Doom acts, they don't focus on the sheer crushing weight of riffs as much as the genre's true heavyweights like Esoteric and Evoken, but they are imperious when it comes to expressing the melancholic, with a leaning towards the gothic. Return to the Void does feel a bit like glacially-paced gothic death doom in the vein of My Dying Bride slowed down by about fifty percent.

The music itself is actually quite simple, the chords and riffs, such as they are, are fairly repetitive with very few changes in tone or tempo, but variation is achieved through the vocal performances, which are pretty damn good throughout, whether it be Natalie Koskinen's hauntingly ethereal female vocals soaring over all like a lost love heard on the night winds, or Henri Koivula's crawling growls issuing from their abyssal depths along with his washed-out, world-weary cleans, the vocalists achieve an exceptional expressiveness and allow for an emotional connection to the tracks over and above that provided by the music itself. I don't mean to imply that the music isn't any good, because it is and, in fact, I think it's simplicity adds to the atmosphere the band are striving for. The keyboards and guitar leads still add to the melancholy air that permeates SoD's music in a way few can match, but those vocals are what truly set the atmosphere at another level. A track like Solitary Downfall for example, is just so fucking sad sounding it is almost heartbreaking to hear.

Funeral Doom Metal is, for me, at it's best when it's crushing weight feels like a natural and irresistable elemental force, but Shape of Despair consistently prove that there is another outlet for this form of expression and that is the inner force of depression and sadness that, in it's own way, can be just as powerful as the mightiest ocean current or volcanic upheavel. With Return to the Void, Shape of Despair once more prove themselves to be absolutely masterful in using what can be seen as quite a monolithic form of music to express the many nuances of human sadness and that is a skill not to be taken lightly.

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