Such is the dearth of my trveness, humility, and years, I’ve recently realized that I tend towards double-adjective metal. That is, types of metal with an additional adjective in their genre tag. Progressive death metal? Check. Post black metal? For sure. Symphonic power metal? Come at me. I could therefore scarcely avoid swiping at the tantalizing fruits surely offered by the three adjectives in the “depressive symphonic black metal” labeled on our promo sheet. Shackles of Life is an EP by Sweden’s Mist of Misery, following 2016’s sophomore full-length called Absence. If such titles didn’t immediately clarify this point, isolation and misery appear to be the name of the game.
So we know upon entry it’s symphonic. Strings, choirs, and keyboards feature prominently as is typical for such metal. At no point was I impressed or even surprised by their integration as they’re largely consigned to atmospheric introductions, interludes or backing tracks. There is no attempt made for Dimmu Borgirian grandiosity but neither are they subtle enough to prove smart counter-points to the remainder of the sound. Speaking of, that depressive tag born so evocatively by such bands as Shining is the thematic focus. The atmospheric interludes strive for this most evidently with their simplistic melodies but they’re largely emotionally ineffective, more like Kvarforth on an ambivalent sort of day. The black metal occupies the final part of Mist of Misery‘s sound. Such tremolo-picked riffs and blast beats are structurally predictable and distinctly lacking any real sense of danger or depression. It’s not particularly terrible but it’s as bland as any black metal you may encounter on your daily trawl of the fourteenth page of metal releases on Bandcamp.
Despite the blackened banality, there’s an odd mix of the old and new when it comes to the production. The mix is light on bass as was popular among the Norwegian kids of the early 90s, but the guitars bear a reasonably modern tone. It’s not unpleasant but I’d rather they committed one way or the other. The dynamic range is similarly mixed. A score of eleven obfuscates a seven for the heavy tracks and up to fourteen for the lighter ones. This sounds positive but fidelity is undermined by the mix being particularly busy when the black metal and symphonics are going together. The latter elements become submerged which at least prevents their overt dominance over the metal but when the metal is already bland I’d rather the symphonics were more evident.
There are pleasing moments but they’re transient. The introduction to “Dagon” is easily the EP’s highlight with Agalloch-influenced chords and strumming followed by a groovy riff of which Dissection would be proud. It’s powerful stuff but quickly returns to generic, uneventful blasting beyond 0:50. The chilling ambiance on the interlude of “Placid Drowning” is the emotive extremity of Shackles too, offering the most melancholic breather. Nonetheless, the similar style utilized on “A Dreamless Void” has the opposite effect, ending closer to Bryan Adams-level sappiness than suicidal hopelessness. Furthermore, the concluding piano pieces on “Opening Chapter to a Solitary Confinement” and “Closing Chapter” offer a weak finale which is dishearteningly similar to “A Dreamless Void” in style and limp in impact.
For each small advantage on Shackles, there’s a corresponding disadvantage while the remainder is tired and uninspiring. It’s far from awful but is simply forgettable and I cannot recommend a reason to listen even once, let alone buy for repeated listens. The genre adjectives are indeed all checked off but metal should be a passionate and emotive experience, not a box-checking exercise. The sheet has disappointed me.