Album Review: Return to the Void – Shape of Despair

Few sub-genres speak to me as loudly as Funeral Doom. Though, admittedly, my take on it may differ from some, I relate to the music as a sufferer of depression. This is most evident in work that doesn’t specifically try terribly hard to remain confined to the boundaries of expectation. Within the music of Shape of Despair, and a brilliant assortment of others – Aeonian Sorrow, Officium Triste, as brief examples – there exists a certain anticipation that cannot be rehearsed, yet when it arrives it is immediately taken to heart as truth. If the road you’re on is depression, and the music in question mimics the journey up until the moment you’re in, there is a silent camaraderie within each return to the void. The void can appear at any time, and from any direction. It may last moments, or it may last months, and each time it visits we worry it might decide not to leave.

It is a slow walk on a long ass road, and not too many people care much to walk with us. But what would any walk be without a momentary pause to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. Great Funeral Doom music embodies this wonderfully, and Shape of Despair has done it better than most for over twenty years. 

“Return To The Void,” as an album opener, lays a slow, churning, swampy foundation. A breezy layer of melody floats on top. The harsh vocals of Henri Koivula conjure up utter hopelessness, but angels are on the horizon! Natalie Koskinen makes sure of that, and in glorious fashion, as usual.  At the risk of sounding over zealous, the combination of sounds on display here provide an almost religious experience. One in which all of the good and all of the bad surround you at once. There is an understanding that you must witness both in order to appreciate either, and as hard as it may be to keep walking, you know there’s some light just over the hill.

It is easy to get lost within music like this. Sounds that conjure winter in all of its phases and with all of its icy, relentless darkness. There is a verse in “Dissolution” that, coupled with the music, expresses how it feels to perpetually exist in this season. 

Close

To the edge

Of disappearance

Faint features

Still existing

Yet somehow

Drawn towards

The Greater absence

And as we inch ever closer to the outline of nought, we are keenly aware of the breath in our lungs. We question this, but rarely out loud, and if so not when there are people around. No, never that. As evidenced by lyrics in “Solitary Downfall.”

All alone

At the limit

Of everything

As these serene

Mute autumns

Pass through me

And all of that silence

Now growing

Within

“Solitary Downfall” has the most gut-wrenching groove.  A slow march. The snare sounding like bricks hitting the ground, or souls falling from the sky and landing at your feet. And when the angels return, they sound nearly broken by the weight of loneliness. That so much loneliness can exist reflects ancient stories of pure evil and destruction, but there is always something to keep fighting for. A tale as old as time. 

So often feelings of such weight are pushed off as things that should not be. Always other than everything else, and to take ownership of them quite often means even more loss. So it’s all kept inside. This entire album is confessional, yet the majority of the telling is solitary in nature. “The Inner Desolation,” for example, is a trip through the darkest moments of chronic depression. 

To awaken the emptiness

that was always there

Here, in the stillness

A yearning 

For an ending 

Musically, I’d put this at the top of Shape of Despair’s catalog. It remains heavy on the guitars, ala Doom:VS or Aphonic Threnody. Down tempo and deliberate, certainly, fitting for their legacy. But there is an ethereal element to these songs that comes to light a little easier than it has previously. Something more evident in a band like Draconian, for example, yet not nearly as precious. The light doesn’t take any of the darkness away, it just makes its presence known within. This may frustrate some listeners, though it’s worth pointing out that frustration plays a pretty big role in the feelings to which Shape of Despair has dedicated their work.

As such, “Return To The Void” is a great example of excellence in Doom, and will be a high ranking selection come year’s end. If you’re on the hunt for music of substance and clarity that exists in a space beyond easy categorization, this is an excellent place to begin.

Released by Season of Mist on Febrary 25th, 2022

Rating: 4.5/5

https://www.facebook.com/shapeofdespairofficial

https://shapeofdespair.bandcamp.com/

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