Sometimes a piece of music is entirely about a single, specific feeling, be it rage, joy or sadness. Departe, the second album by atmospheric post-doom super group Clouds, is definitely about the latter, and it attempts to drown the listener in a vast sea of chilling, cloying melancholy without offering the slightest hint of hope or beam of light. Formed by members of The 11th Hour, Eye of Solitude, Rapture, Barren Earth and Shape of Despair, the line up reads like doom royalty and their vast experience helps make this one of the bleakest, most depressive listens of this year or any other. Departe is a long, draining emotional journey through the shades of despair, and it’s not an easy one. Nor is it appropriate for the casual doom fan. Though there is great beauty in the execution of the material, this is the kind of album that will only appeal to a niche set of the already niche doom market – fans of long, drawn-out odes to pain and unhappiness (i.e. fans of My Dying Bride and A Swarm of the Sun). If you count yourself among those unhappy few, read on, grim spirit, read on.
Departe is composed of 6 tracks, most running in excess of 10-minutes. At 1 hour and change, this is a sprawling album overflowing with unrelenting heartache and the songs all take their sweet time getting where they’re going. This could easily be a recipe for disaster, but in the capable hands of these veterans, it works far better than it should, creating a doom album with more shades of gray than any dime store BDSM pablum. Opener “How Can I Be There” starts life like something off a mid-period Anathema album, as soft, despondent strumming meets tranquil clean vocals that slowly weave forlorn tendrils around your soul and hypnotize your psyche. Around the 3:30 mark you get the first real doom riffs and the monstrously guttural death vocals by Daniel Neagoe (Eye of Solitude) and Pim Blankenstein (The 11th Hour). The music is simplistic, consisting mostly of bare bones riffs and subdued piano, but when teamed with the excellent clean and harsh vocals, the song really takes on a dark half-life of its own and holds you rapt for the entirety of its mammoth runtime.
That’s the template for the rest of Departe as well. The music is stripped down and minimalist, at times almost feeling forgotten altogether, but something holds the compositions together. “Migration” features horrific death roars alongside beautiful clean singing by Jón Aldará (Barren Earth, Hamferð), accompanied by the most basic of doom riffs and soft keyboard tinkering. No matter how many times I spin it, I’m surprised it’s as effective and moving as it is. “In the Oceans of My Tears” offers a haunting and beautiful Irish tin whistle and violin intro sure to bring you down, and it’s not until the 4-minute mark that plaintive female vocals arrive to further depress the spirit. It’s a stark, evocative piece with not the slightest glimmer of positivity, but it quickly became my favorite cut. “In All This Dark” is like a deft merger of Warning with Anathema and it’s melodic, downcast and gorgeous across its full 13 minutes, with clean vocals so exquisitely anguished they’ll leave a gaping hole where your little black heart once was.
Downsides? As good as much of the material is, the sheer length of the songs and the album itself is daunting, and while I can take it in one sitting, by the 45-50 minute mark I’m struggling to stay focused. Another issue is the tendency of these drawn-out post-doom compositions to sound too alike and ultimately this can lead to a feeling of monotony by the 5th or 6th track. Some trimming would surely help. Also, Departe is front-loaded with the best material and by the final third, the overall quality drops ever so slightly.
Without linear notes it’s not always possible to tell who is doing what vocal-wise, and while it sounds like Daniel Neagoe handles the bulk of the mega-deep death croaks, Pim is present on some tracks as well and both are impressively brutal. The real star of the show for my money is Jón Aldará, whose impassioned cleans pull at the heartstrings whenever they appear. The female vocals on “In the Ocean of My Tears” are also very impressive, but I have no idea who performs them. The guitar-work by Jarno Salomaa (Shape of Despair) and Deha is as understated as can be, largely foregoing traditional solos and usually opting for simple post-doom/post-metal static trilling or sedate background strumming. The heavier doom riffs are not very attention-grabbing either, mostly chugging along in low-gear. This leads to a sense of flatness over such a long-winded album. The violin playing by the infamous Shawn MacGowan (My Dying Bride) often takes the spotlight from the guitars and while that generally works, a bit more guitar presence would have led to a more dynamic listen.
Departe is an album that falls just short of brilliance, but even in failing manages to be one of the most emotional releases of the year. When their style comes together, it’s a frightening thing to behold, and there are some amazing set pieces here sure to inflame the soul of doom fans. With some restraint, editing and diversification, Clouds could be the next big thing in doom. They’re definitely a band that deserves a lot of attention. Hear this thing and see what it does to your peace (piece) of mind.