Self Hypnosis – Contagion of Despair Review

What do you get when two stalwarts of the British stoner and doom scenes come together to make a record they felt was too experimental for their existing projects? Self Hypnosis is the brainchild of Camel of Doom main man Kris Clayton, partnering with Esoteric’s vocalist, guitarist and occasional keyboardist Greg Chandler. The trio is rounded out by drummer Tom Valleley. Combining elements of Clayton and Chandler’s other projects1, Self Hypnosis are now ready to drop their avant-garde debut, Contagion of Despair. And the answer to the question I posed in the first sentence is, you get an almost 80-minute slab of experimental, sometimes caustic, sometimes proggy, doom. Now, anything that comfortably clears the hour mark is quite the undertaking and has some serious work to do if it’s going to hypnotize me, as opposed to lead me into despair. Which is it for Self Hypnosis?

While the influences of its creators’ other projects are, unsurprisingly, clear to hear – both the fuzzed, crawling stoner drone of Camel of Doom and the funeral doom of Esoteric Contagion of Despair is a somewhat more accessible record than either of those outfits. That it’s more accessible, does not, however, make Self Hypnosis’ first outing a breezy little number. Comprising only seven tracks, Contagion of Despair majors in sprawling experimental doom, drawing inspiration from hardcore, sludge, stoner, drone and post-metal along the way. Album highlight “Omission” covers an enormous amount of ground across its 17 minutes, ranging from the abrasive discordance of YOB, to the ambient doom of Bell Witch and the tortured beauty of Amenra. It also takes in electronica-fueled curios, acoustic strumming and a post-metal swell that Year of No Light would be proud of.

Similar winding tales unfold across the rest of Contagion of Despair but, where some albums use interludes to break up their sprawling compositions, Self Hypnosis choose to punctuate their four epics with three much more confrontational, dirty, chugging numbers. “Scandal,” in particular, is a filthy almost Ministry-esque piece. The massively meandering “Divided” into which “Scandal” leads is Crippled Black Phoenix meets Meshuggah and if this whole thing is starting to sound bonkers, well, it is. Contagion of Despair is as angry as it is mournful, as jarring as it is starkly beautiful. Both Clayton and Chandler take to the mic, leading to vocals as wildly varying as Self Hypnosis’ musical influences, and ranging from hardcore barks through screams and howls to guttural doom roars.

Contagion of Despair is a lot to take in and I have a feeling that Self Hypnosis wanted it that way. I said above that it felt more accessible than Camel of Doom or Esoteric but that is only because there are so many angles and corners to it that everyone is likely to find at least one hook to draw them in. At the same time, there is so much going on that it’s hard to chart a cohesive path through Contagion of Despair. Each of the album’s four expansive pieces has its own mood, which draws you in and leads you away only for one of the ‘interludes’ to slap you rapidly about the face and sober you up, ready for an abrupt change of atmosphere and direction. At times these shifts are too abrupt and lead the record to feel a bit disjointed. One constant across the record, however, is the production, which I like a lot. Contagion of Despair feels expansive, with its many apparently disparate elements brought together into a coarse, spiky ball of energy that combines an almost prog guitar tone with a much rougher, Godflesh-like industrial take on the drums and bass.

The album title, much like the music itself, is supposed to encapsulate an antithesis of hope – indeed, the title was taken from a radio discussion on so-called ‘contagion of hope’ phenomena. Self Hypnosis have certainly created a bleak and challenging listen, with despair as its centerpiece, but the sheer length of Contagion of Despair is hard to escape. Although there are many memorable moments (the whirling maelstrom of “Succumbed”) and Self Hypnosis at times mesmerize the listener (“Omission”), there is a fair amount of fat clinging to Contagion of Despair’s 78-minute skeleton. This makes it a little hard to digest and does detract from what is an otherwise very impressive debut from this trio of seasoned doomsters.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: |
Release Date: August 21st, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Clayton has also played guitars in Esoteric at times.
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