Fórn: an Icelandic word which translates as “sacrifice.” This seems an appropriate name for a heavy metal band, with its reference to one of the most brutal metal nations, connotations of loss and quasi-religious overtones. Despite their name, Fórn are an American five-piece act operating primarily out of Boston. Rites of Despair represents their sophomore full-length release, falling somewhere between funereal (note the “e” before accusing me of calling this funeral doom) doom metal but with a definite death metal edge. How fare these Icelandic winds across the North American continent?
Such funereal doom metal strives for a crushing atmosphere. The rub is that it can be so easy to plod and repeat in an effort to attain such a product; this applies to black metal but particularly to doom as the riffing tends to be slower and more ponderous. Unfortunately, Fórn often falls into the trap. Melodies do embed but this is more through bludgeoning repetition than encouraging active engagement. The riffs more often lap at my faded attention span than demand it and while they’re not bad, they’re not good either. In total, there’s simply nothing surprising and no compelling reason to re-begin. Granted, there are blackened passages with tremolo-picking layered over doomy chords, which periodically refresh things, but they fail in swaying my opinion.
I also find doom best when interludes are offered to break apart the towering moods; such bands as The Fall of Every Season and Plateau Sigma boast some of the most beautiful quiet passages and contrasts in the business. Rites of Despair, on the other hand, offers interludes for interludes’ sake. While they do accentuate the doom on either side by virtue of their having different sounds, they’re not enjoyable or even interesting in themselves. They’re largely plain and sparsely populated breathers which do nothing but change the sound. The exception is “A Transmutation” with its feminine clean vocals, more melodic instrumentation, and background tremolo-picked guitar. The use of layers and more demanding melodies does far more for me.
It is tough to look past these criticisms but it would be negligent of me to not mention the far stronger run on the album from “(Altar of) Moss, Lichen & Blood” (“Altar”) through to “Scrying Below the Wolf Moon” (“Scrying”) (disregarding the dull two minutes of “Auraboros”). The best three tracks feature here and definitely have more flavor than the remainder of Rites of Despair. The lead riff on “Altar” is one of the best and the transition at, and development after, 1:10 is one of the record’s coolest moments. Furthermore, “Ritual Ascension Through a Weeping Soul” drapes an emotive melodic layer over its guitars which recalls Funeral. Best of all is “Scrying” which overcomes the tedious nature of some other tracks despite its 11-minute run-time. While the introduction plods, the ensuing harmonized guitars have a revitalizing effect and the mid-track interlude is the most delicate on the album. The back half is very emotive and the guttural growls are all the more harrowing for their juxtaposition with the ‘prettiest’ heavy passage.
To be fair, Rites of Despair is a grower. On my first few listens, I was utterly bored. Reaching the subsequent few, I listened with greater intent and was better familiarized with the record’s melodies. But there is a finite number of listens possible and I must impart my opinion on the date of writing. That opinion comprises some admiration for the achievement between “Altar” and “Scrying” but largely notes a sense of dreariness when spending time with this Fórn release. Please regard the time fórn I have made; you need not make the same fórn yourselves.