Hellish Form – Remains Review

I’m not entirely sure why, but it seems black metal musicians enjoy carte blanche when it comes to incorporating other genres into their music. Everything from Appalachian folk to shoegaze to African American work songs to opera has been shoehorned into the supposedly kvltest of all metal. Not to mention any other metal genre can just add a little “blackened” seasoning in the mix for tasty results. It’s like the sparkling wine of metal: pairs well with anything. American bi-coastal band Hellish Form has looked at those corpse painted musical polyamorists and asked a question so bold, so elegant it brings a tear to my doom-loving eye: If black metal can do it, why not funeral doom? WHY NOT FUNERAL DOOM? That’s right, Hellish Form take the niche-est of metal styles and cries “Moar niche-er!” Could this be the beginning of an experimental funeral doom craze?1

Hellish Form is a long distance collaborative project by Willow Ryan (Body Void) and Jacob Lee (Keeper). Their foundational sound on debut album2 Remains is heavy, slow, torturous doom in the funeral vein, but on this, an impressive range of styles is layered, especially considering how minimal their delivery can be at times. Funeral riffs played with a sludge tone collapse into stretches of noise/drone. These squalls of distortion together with Lee’s shrieking vocals put me in mind of a more methodical Khanate, so it may be no coincidence that James Plotkin handles mastering duties on Remains. This bleak landscape is complimented, even sometimes counteracted by Ryan’s soaring, shimmering synths that turn from typical doom (“Your Grave Becomes a Garden”) to dream pop tendencies (“Ache,” “Another World”) seemingly on a dime.

This interplay between the slow, sludgy noise and the ethereal, downright uplifting synth work is the great strength of Remains. We’re eased into things with the 14 minute “Your Grave Becomes a Garden,” starting squarely in that Khanate-plays-funeral-doom territory until nearly two thirds of the way through when the down tuned guitars lift their grimy faces upward to a light just barely breaking above. Things gradually build until synths float above the din like a white bird catching the light against a dark storm cloud. It’s a pretty typical funeral doom trick, “pretty” being the operative word, and I’m a sucker for it. “Ache” flows naturally from there with synths more front and center, until halfway through when the song blooms suddenly into enough dream pop grandeur, it’s easy to forget this is funeral doom. Final standout track “Another World” gathers the album’s various elements into a single, sturdy cord of interwoven sorrow and hopeful resolve.

The one thing keeping this album from greater heights is the similarity between “Your Grave Becomes a Garden” and “Shadows With Teeth.” Both are long, at 14 and 12 minutes respectively, and both follow the same basic template of trance-inducing funeral/drone that plods forward until things get more explicitly emotive in the final minutes. When presented with two such interchangeable tracks on an album with only four total, my tendency is to focus on the one that does its thing better. While “Shadows With Teeth” fits the album’s aesthetic just fine, opener “Your Grave…” is the superior song, lessening the impact of the mid-album “Shadows…”

A mélange of funeral doom, sludge, drone and dream pop may sound unwieldy on paper, but Hellish Form pull it off beautifully with Remains, especially considering this project only started in 2020. I’m well aware, of course, that one band pushing the boundaries of funeral doom doesn’t signal a wave of innovation, but I’m thankful for groups like Australia’s Ivan, and now Hellish Form, for keeping my favorite sub-sub-genre from stagnation.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Translation Loss Records
Websites: hellishform.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/HellishForm
Releases Worldwide: June 25th, 2021

Show 2 footnotes
  1. A man can dream.
  2. Depending on how you count 2020’s two song MMXX.
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