Ever felt the need to sit amidst the shadows and brood darkly over lost loves, personal failures, lack of objectivity in music reviews and other existential mumbo jumbo? If so, I may have the perfect musical accompaniment for your days of shoegaze. Despond, the debut from Tennessee’s Loss, is one mammoth slab of remorseful, gloomy funeral doom/death that will harsh anyone’s mellow and kill any and all buzz. It’s snail paced, ponderous and crushingly heavy in that way only real doom can be. On the highway of metal music, this thing has its hazard lights flashing and moves slower than a senior citizen with cataracts and a bum hip. Now, I’m well aware that funeral doom isn’t for everyone. I myself rarely find the style compelling enough to sit through an album’s worth regardless of how well the band executes. For that very reason I was surprised by the impact Despond had on me. Not only did I enjoy listening to the entirety of Loss‘s mortuary muzak, but I kept going back for more and ultimately, it left me blown away. That either means they have something truly special going on or I have a brain tumor pressing on my music appreciation lobe. Either way, this is an weirdly addictive album full of gloom and despair with some unbelievably powerful emotions and atmosphere to it.
Despond opens with a depressive spoken word/ambient intro as any funeral doom album should before settling down to pummel you with lead-weighted riffery. Lead off mass “Open Veins to a Closed Curtain” (helluva title) emerges with excellent and painfully slow doom riffs and ridiculously low, guttural, utterly incomprehensible death vocals. As the song lumbers through its ten minute length, it alternates between heavy but haunting harmonies and quiet, sedate strumming with subdued drum work. The guitars of Timothei Lewis and Mike Meacham walks the delicate line between beautiful and depressing and the main riff is such a good one, you won’t mind being hammered by it relentlessly. The rest of Despond stays in that slow doom space and each song takes its sweet time developing (most run over seven minutes). “Cut Up, Depressed and Alone” also showcases mountain-sized doom riffs and a fantastically bleak but exquisitely haunting vibe (I love the riff that erupts at 5:03). At the 1:53 point of “An Ill Body Seats My Sinking Sight” (where do they come up with these titles?), they treat you to a humdinger of a slowly evolving riff and I can’t get it out of my head. Forlorn clean vocals make an appearance late in the game on “Silent and Completely Overcome” and provide a nice change up while imparting a vaguely Katatonia-esque vibe. On “The Irreparable Act” they even venture into quasi-Anathema territory with tranquil strumming and soft keys.
Although we get plenty of deep death roars, the occasional evil black metal cackle and the aforementioned clean singing, the vocals here are almost an afterthought. They’re relegated to the background both by design and mixing. The huge riffs and despairing harmonies are clearly the focus here. While pushing the vocals to the background has an effect on the listen-ability and heaviness factors, there’s no denying its the guitar work that’s the star and the reason this all succeeds. In most cases, Lewis and Meacham establish a main riff, shellac you with it for long durations then slowly transition to another similarly downbeat riff. There aren’t even any solos on Despond, just relentless doom-o-thon trilling and grinding with enough melody to hold interest. There’s a lot of stylistic similarities to Warning‘s Watching From a Distance but this is a lot heavier. There are even traces of While Heaven Wept in the melodies.
This is clearly not going to work for many due to its singularly lethargic pacing and stubborn refusal to outpace a glacier (AMG dubbed this “too claustrophobically slow”). However, if you love doom, you really should try this and give it a couple listens to allow it time to seep into the medulla-oblongata. There’s a lot of beautiful guitar work here for those patient enough plumb the depths of despair. Loss has wrought a highly emotional and powerful work of depressive glory and it would be real shame if it passes without notice. If you have a note from a doctor indicating you’re on Prozac, consider yourself excused.