One of my favorite things about writing for Angry Metal Guy Unlimited, LLC is when I’m blindsided by a new band. Quiescence, the 2014 debut album by Italian doomsters Shores of Null, impressed the hell out of me with their wonderful combination of Daylight Dies riding with Alice in Chains en route to an Amorphis gig, and landed themselves on my Top Ten(ish) list of that year. Between the hook-filled riffs and some absolutely stellar vocals by frontman Davide Straccione, Shores of Null proved they had the chops to drop something special on us. Here we are three years later, and they return with their eagerly-awaited follow-up, the dreary Black Drapes for Tomorrow.
Things start promisingly enough. “Tributary Waters,” like “0x0000” from Quiescence, sets the stage nicely as a quick-paced instrumental, with a somber melody played over the driving drumming of Emiliano Cantiano, before bleeding into “Donau.” The riff interplay between guitarists Raffaele Colace and Gabriele Giaccari provides a wonderful bed for Straccione to lay his vocals upon, and once again he delivers with aplomb. Again reminding me of both Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell’s (Alice in Chains) vocal harmonies mixed with Tomi Joutsen’s (Amorphis) inflections and growling, Straccione continues to impress with his performance in the chorus. While the song overall doesn’t hit with quite the force that “Kings of Null” from their debut did, it still serves as an enjoyable song on its own, and with eager anticipation I pressed forth, hoping that my heart would be won over like Quiescence did three years ago.
But there are a few snags. First, oddly enough, lies with Straccione’s performance, or rather his vocal cords themselves. Mind you, not once does he deliver a bad performance, but there are times where it sounds like his vocal cords are going to give out on him from straining so much, especially when he sings in a growled mid-range. Nowhere is this more apparent than during the chorus of “Tide Against Us” and the first verse of standout track “Carry On, My Tiny Hope,” where I couldn’t help but think he was going to damage his voice if he kept doing that. But the other problem lies in the songs themselves. Again, there are no bad songs, but none of them hit the level of greatness that Quiescence did. No sweeping majestic ballads like “Ruins Alive” or doomy ragers like “Kings of Null” or “The Heap of Meaning” can be found here. Black Drapes doesn’t sound bad so much as it sounds absolutely safe, almost a B-side album of Quiescence outtakes, and these guys are capable of so much more.
The Marco Mastrobuono (Fleshgod Apocalypse, Hour of Penance) production doesn’t exactly help, either. Other than the two lush acoustic instrumentals (“The Enemy Within” and closer “Death of a River”), Black Drapes sounds squashed, especially when it comes to Cantiano’s drums during fills and cymbal flourishes. Plainly put, the mix neuters them, which guts me because you can hear Cantiano playing his ass off. Mateo Capozucca’s bass is also conspicuously absent, making appearances here and there. Thankfully, it wasn’t as painful as the clipping that made its ugly appearance during parts of Quiescence.
I had incredibly high hopes for Black Drapes for Tomorrow. Shores of Null definitely possess what it takes to become a force in doom metal. Sadly, while Black Drapes is a decent record, it could have been a great record, and that kills me. It feels frustratingly safe, and “safe” is never a good thing to be. I’m hoping the next one knocks it out of the park.