Rotting Kingdom – A Deeper Shade of Sorrow Review

The death-doom umbrella is one that I use on occasion, but have never fully committed to. I understand the premise, of course, and I’m convinced that the style can work very well, but I’ve yet to be truly inspired by a sample of the craft. Generally speaking, I’m happy for my music to be fast and angry or slow and sad. Still, when you like a thing and you like another thing, it’s hard to resist trying those things together and seeing what results. These were my rough thoughts as I entered Kentucky’s Rotting Kingdom to sample their debut album, A Deeper Shade of Sorrow, lured in by the promise of an album “both mournful and triumphant, stunningly dismal and blood-rushingly gripping.” High ambitions are usually good things; can Rotting Kingdom deliver?

Perhaps a better question might have been “was your harvest as barren as mine?” The seven-minute album opener (“Barren Harvest”), not counting a much-too-brief instrumental opening track (“Sculpted Into Life by the Hand of Death”), serves as an excellent microcosm for the album as a whole. A Deeper Shade of Sorrow, for the most part, approaches the fusion of death and doom by being not-too-fast and not-too-slow, not-too-loud and not-too-quiet, not-too-aggressive and not-too-soft. Said opener leans on a memorable lead and heavy riffing from guitarists Clay Rice and Kyle Keener, while cavernous bellows from Anton Escobar dominate the backdrop. For seven minutes, the song gallops through somber verses, death metal interludes, and a a catchy, memorable main riff. It’s a promising start to A Deeper Shade of Sorrow, and is just an all-around strong song.

Despite this, the songwriting on A Deeper Shade of Sorrow has me conflicted throughout, because I think the choices the band makes are simultaneously both good and bad ones. One thing Rotting Kingdom does very well is crafting good-sounding riffs and melodies. “Decrepit Elegance” opens with simple guitar plucking, managing to sound foreboding and haunting before launching into the song proper. The bass, played by Chuck McIntyre, and drums, from Brandon Glancy, sound awesome, and become prominent at exactly the right times. I also love the band’s use of tremolos, buried just enough in the mix to add a sense of quiet urgency to the music. I really like the sound of Rotting Kingdom and A Deeper Shade of Sorrow, and, for the most part, have enjoyed the album while listening.

The problem arises when I try to really describe that sound. Most of A Deeper Shade of Sorrow consists of seven or eight-minute long songs that tread a very fine line between death and doom metal without ever really committing to one or the other. That in itself is fine — it’s the name of the genre, after all — but I take issue with just how very ambiguous this material is. It’s never aggressive enough nor sorrowful enough to really resonate the way I think it’s meant to. “Absolute Ruin” is the closest the album ever gets to death metal, while “A Deeper Shade of Sorrow” leans closer to doom metal than anything – yet each of these songs blurs the line so heavily that the emotional value of each one is poor. At face value, these are all strong songs; well-written, varied, and interesting. But when I delve deeper, I can’t shake the feeling that something is missing. I don’t feel A Deeper Shade of Sorrow in the way I want to, and that speaks to something missing that can be a bit tough on repeated listens.

So I’m conflicted, which makes assigning a score to this unique shade of sorrow a challenge. Rotting Kingdom deliver a series of songs that make for a cohesive whole, with memorable leads and admirable performances without every really landing the way I think it’s meant to. I don’t see A Deeper Shade of Sorrow as an excellent or inspiring offering of death-doom, but it’s certainly an admirable debut, one that makes me think that this is a band to keep an eye on.1

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Boris Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 13th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. A brief closing note – I learned, too late, that the promo copy of the album I’ve been listening to assigned a wrong number and title to every track on the album, so I’ve been listening to A Deeper Shade of Sorrow in the wrong order. I believe I’ve fixed all of the titles in this review, and don’t think this would have impacted the final score of the album, but feel free to be wary of my comments anyway.
« »