Shape-of-Despair_Monotony FieldsIf sitting alone in a darkened room, lighting a few candles, uncorking a good claret, and settling in for an uninterrupted hour of beauteous funeral doom sounds like your idea of a fun night in, you’re probably already a fan of Shape of Despair. If this ritual appeals but you’re not familiar with the band, I suggest you book yourself some alone time at the next available opportunity so you can perform it with their second album, Angels of Distress. Actually feel free to choose any of their prior records; their standards are consistently high. When picking your preferred platter of pain, you will notice that, despite their relatively prolific early career, there are no full-lengths to choose from post-2004 (2010’s eleven minute long EP is hardly suitable for your solo ceremony). So the news that they would be releasing a new album in 2015 left me pert with anticipation.

Now, I think that pretty much anything played excruciatingly slowly can sound amazing so bear that in mind for the remainder of the review, but the opening half hour of this record – especially “Reaching the Innermost” – is some of the most pulchritudinous heavy music I’ve heard this decade. Contrary to many of their funeral doom peers, Shape of Despair eschew crushing heaviness and evil atmospheres in favor of pure, tragic beauty. Harmonically they have more in common with Swallow the Sun, Saturnus, or perhaps even Amorphis than they do with Skepticism, Thergothon or Ahab, even if speed-wise they are closer to those latter acts. The combination of simple, gorgeous chord progressions and painful slowness is wonderfully beautiful and surprisingly accessible, and the opening three tracks showcase this style at its absolute zenith.

In addition to the standard guitar, bass, and drums combination, Shape of Despair make heavy use of synths, both to add a warm, velvet texture and to accentuate particular melodies and harmonies. New vocalist Henri Koivula (also in Throes of Dawn) possesses an otherworldly deep growl that manages to conjure feelings of abject despair without any of the harsh aggression of prior singer Pasi Koskinen, and suits the underlying music perfectly. His occasional clean vocals add a bit of variety, but I would have preferred to hear more of Natalie Koskinen’s singing instead. Her simple, haunting melodies are rare highlights, fitting in perfectly alongside the luscious synths. The production is excellent – warm and dense but clear, again similar to the more commercial end of doom than the swampy mush that is often associated with the genre.

Shape of Despair_2015

Unfortunately, Monotony Fields falls short of greatness for the same reason that plagues many doom albums: it lacks diversity. Funeral doom is one of metal’s most limited sub-genres: it’s necessarily slow, long and drawn out, so you run the risk of inducing boredom if you can’t find some creative way to keep the listener’s mind from wandering. On previous records, Shape of Despair used a greater variety of both tempos and moods, but here they simply attempt to compose music so painfully beautiful that the monotony isn’t an issue. It almost works, because after the first few tracks you feel like you’ll never want to listen to anything else ever again, such is the skill with which they craft their gorgeous tragedies. But naturally a few less-inspired riffs creep in, the relentlessly similar tempos and harmonies start to drag, and you begin to yearn for a change in mood or pace. That’s not to say there aren’t wonderful moments later in the album – the end of “The Blank Journey,” the dying moments of album closer “Written in my Scars,” and all of “In Longing” in particular are equal to any moment in the leading few songs – but the record is definitely front-loaded, which emphasizes the music’s repetitiveness later on.

Despite this, Monotony Fields is a fine addition to Shape of Despair‘s excellent discography. I can confirm it is an entirely suitable accompaniment to a solitary candles-n-wine night even if it does drag on a little. Think of it this way – it’s so long, you can possibly fit in two bottles before it ends. Now that is thoughtful album writing.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 224 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: ShapeOfDespairOfficial | Facebook.com/ShapeOfDespairOfficial
Release Dates: EU: 2015.06.15 | NA: 06.16.2015

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  • Tom Hardy

    As a fan of their discography, this album is pretty good. Your comparisons of Amorphis, Saturnus … laughable. Lacks diversity you say? Most classic Doom bands have long songs with no variation. I think what’s more apparent from the review is your misjudgment or wrong expectation of what ‘you’ want Funeral Doom to be versus what Funeral Doom actually is. Good luck with that.

    • Norfair Legend

      We have a tough guy in the room.

      Reviews…opinions
      Opinions…they can be different.

      • AndySynn

        I always like it when people sign off with “Good luck with that.”

      • Tom Hardy

        Sure, opinions can and should vary. Absolutely. Which’s why my film Mad Max does not have an absolute 100% rating on RT.

        • Carlos Marrickvillian

          could have done with a car chase that film :)

      • basenjibrian

        As I recall, Tom Hardy NEVER agrees with the reviews here.

    • Wilhelm

      Don’t take it personal, the album got a 3.5 which is a generous rating in this site.

      • Tom Hardy

        Not at all. I’ve been reading that a lot when a 3 or 3.5 comes in. The rating is just a front (almost apologetic in most reviews) for the disillusioned text appearing above it.

        • Wilhelm

          Apologetic would be a 4-5 rating, which rarely happens and is the reason I dig this site for reviews. I don’t think the writers of this site have motives beyond giving you their cold hard opinion – I’m not even sure what we’re arguing over.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Great review, and you’re spot on about the danger of boredom that faces many Funeral Doom records. Very intrigued to give this album a full listen.

  • Wilhelm

    Great review and a very well done album. Unlike the reviewer, I didn’t get too bored even though it is a really long album. I always liked Shape of Despair because of their ability to bridge the gap between funeral and atmospheric doom, not evil or hopelessly depressive, but sort of introspective and ambient. Good call on the vocals, I thought the female ones were very well done and would have liked to have heard more of them.

  • hardysponge

    Really enjoying this album, great vocals and atmosphere. But 75 minutes of Funeral Doom is a bit much for me. 3 songs in one go will do (and is enough for that one glass of self-pity wine).

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Yowzers, that is kind of long for the genre. Oh well, I’ll see how many bottles I can get through in that time.

  • Kronos

    This makes me want to listen to funeral doom. I guess since death metal has been so shitty lately I might as well give it a try.

    • Tom Hardy

      Why limit yourself to just Deathmetal, Kronos? Are you one of those chaps who won’t touch Blackmetal because you’re so into the former? AGM might give you shit for not liking Abba #joking.

      • Kronos

        Gotta specialize in something, you know? That’s not to say I don’t listen to a variety of genes, but death metal is my specialty and consequently my go-to. Love me some pretentious black metal though.

        • Garak

          Specialize in ex-crabcore bands and listen to the new The Devil Wears Prada single. That will surely improve your opinions on the state of overall metal in 2015.

          • Kronos

            I’ll stick to this Pyrrhon EP, thanks.

          • Garak

            That’s the best release so far this year.

          • Kronos

            Best release we’ve reviewed, for sure…

      • kaeru92

        Angry Guy Metal ??

        • Kronos

          Angry Getal Muy

  • brutal_sushi

    I’m really digging this!

  • Matt slatz

    Very good review, of very good music….a good Cabernet, and new doom…..a match made in hell?

  • Hulksteraus

    Love me some Shape of Despair! I think I agree with Tom Hardy here in that I don’t find that there is too little diversity and I don’t find that I get bored with the music. What I do get is lost in the music, which is why I like Doom and it’s sub-genres, I have always loved the atmosphere that Shape of Despair have produced. For me, that is what the great Doom bands achieve – atmospheres that you can get lost in. Shape of Despair are definitely amongst the greats (even if they are fly a little under the radar and haven’t really released much for a while).

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Thanks for the new word pulchritudinous! I’ll be slipping that into conversations now…:)
    I’m going to disagree with a few here. I seem to find it hard to get excited about funeral Doom anymore, that said the embedded track sounds really good in particular the ethereal clean backing vocals, the guttural stuff just sounds like every other FD band good or bad … it’s become a bit boring. I can’t wait for the first quality funeral doom act to drop the guttural vocals and see what they can do. Doom:VS did this a bit on Earthless which for me where the most enjoyable moments on the album

    • I feel the same about that word. This site constantly reminds me that I have still a long way to go in English.
      Also, one of my friends just died this week, funeral doom is too painfully fitting right now, so I can’t say whether I’d otherwise like it.

  • Grymm

    I’m getting a strong Funeral vibe on this album, and I fucking LOVE Funeral.

    So good.

  • Doomdeathrosh

    God does this hold a candle (QUITE some candles!) to Angels of Distress!

  • Alex Leverkühn

    Thanks for “pulchritudinous,” although when I looked it up in the dictionary there’s a little remark that the word is only used to describe a person. But, in this case, its use to describe an object is truly justified. Just an absolutely gorgeous album in my opinion.

  • funeraldoombuggy

    I don’t agree with the lack of diversity part of the review. Pretty much all Shape of Despair songs have a similar feel, that’s why I enjoy it. overall good review, I would have prob given a 4.5 but I am a total nerd for this band.

  • Celaeno

    Love the album and the review. Here’s to drowning myself in wine tonight. Cheers.

  • Requiem

    I didn’t want the beautiful atmospherics of the beginning to ever end, they were honestly threatening to tear my soul apart… Then when my heartstrings finally snapped and I fell into the remainder of the beautiful title track, the same atmospherics still faint in the background, I felt a beautiful void consume me.
    Usually I don’t ‘get’ this type of extremely slow funeral doom on such a level. This album, and this band, however, are fucking phenomenal. I’d have given this a 4.5 in all honesty, I’m quite profoundly moved…

  • Meat Tornado

    5/5 album of the year contender. I love funeral doom, and this is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

    • radava

      Agreed. But really this album transcends the genre which is why it deserves such consideration. I cant disagree that there are aspects that are predictable. But in the same way we all know what a chant is and that doesn’t prevent it from taking us to where we want to be.