REVIEW: Shape of Despair – Return to the Void

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After over 6 years of waiting, funeral doom experts SHAPE OF DESPAIR is set to release their new album, “Return to the Void” on February 25, 2022. The delay is understandable due to its members’ other projects such as FINNTROLL, IMPALED NAZARENE, THROES OF DAWN, and others. Their last album, “Monotony Fields,” was received well internationally, so this album has been highly anticipated. Jarno Salomaa has mentioned that he started writing “Return to the Void” shortly after “Monotony Fields” was released. If you learn anything from SHAPE OF DESPAIR’S music though, it is not to rush anything. If the album art looks familiar compared to the previous one, that makes sense, as the artist for both is Mariusz Krystew. The gloomy, meaningful simplicity of the cover art reflects their sound well and further enticed me to give it a listen. The album has six tracks, which would normally sound short, but due to the long song lengths, the album is almost an hour long.

The first song on the album is the title track, “Return to the Void.” The song starts with a slow drum and a nice sliding guitar riff. The vocals don’t come in slowly and it complements the ambience well. The growling vocals are at a chilling low register – Henri Koivula must have great lung capacity because he holds some of the notes for an extremely long time. This album is definitely off to a good start, because it creates a gloomy, dark atmosphere right away. Later in the song, Natalie Koskinen’s vocals come in, and add a whole new layer to the atmosphere.

The second song on the album is also the second single released, entitled “Dissolution.” This song has a similar formula to the last, with a slow guitar and drum start. Vocals come in at 2 minutes, starting with the harsher style. When Natalie Koskinen’s vocals come in, they add to the song and makes it sound more unique. Near the end of the song, the growling vocals slow down further in an interesting time change, which creates a cool, eerie effect. The end of “Dissolution” flows nicely into the next track, “Solitary Downfall.” Like the previous songs, the instrumentals are tight and create the depressing atmosphere they intended. The song doesn’t sound like traditional doom metal until the 8 minute mark, when clean and dirty vocals come together in a heavier part of song. The combination of both vocal styles is where this song really shines.

The next song is their first single, “Reflection in Slow Time.” I understand why this song was released first, as it reflects the overall style of the band perfectly. As opposed to the other songs, it starts with Natalie‘s vocals. Natalie sounds angelic and when the growl vocals are added in, it elevates the song so much that I would say it is the best vocal collaboration on the album. The song has heavier guitars from Tomi Ullgrén and Jarno Salomaa, but still stays true to the doom metal style.

The last single released from the album is up next: “Forfeit.” SHAPE OF DESPAIR gave the audience a treat by releasing half of the songs as singles before the album came out and this song highlights the talents of the band nicely, and how tight and deliberate they make every note. The clean vocals from Henri Koivula are a nice touch, but it does not sound like a metal song until a few minutes in. Towards the end of the song, Henri impresses listeners with a higher register of harsh vocals that sound closer to black metal in style. I can see this song translating well into a live performance.

The album then closes with the “The Inner Desolation.” The song starts in its signature style: all of the instruments come together to create yet again a chilling yet somehow relaxing atmosphere. There is a mix of harsh and clean vocals that effectively add to the atmosphere of the song. The vocals after the extended instrumental are powerful, then album ends perfectly with the ambience of Natalie gently singing.

Overall, the album was worth the wait. You could tell they put a lot of effort into every song and that all their musical choices were intentional and skillfully arranged. I picture this album as perfect to listen while taking a nap with a blanket and a warm drink. Although there are some extreme style vocals in the album, the slow pace and the clean vocals mixed with the instrumentals make it sound like lullaby songs for metalheads. The album creates such a dark, gloomy atmosphere, I wonder how it will translate when played live. It will be interesting how they will create this same atmosphere during summer festival season this year! That all being said, I believe this album would appeal to a wide variety of metal enthusiasts, beyond only doom metal fans.

TRACKLIST:

  1. Return To The Void
  2. Dissolution
  3. Solitary Downfall
  4. Reflection In Slow Time
  5. Forfeit
  6. The Inner Desolation

LINEUP:

Henri Koivula – vocals
Natalie Koskinen – vocals
Jarno Salomaa – guitars and keyboards
Tomi Ullgrén – guitars
Sami Uusitalo – bass
Samu Ruotsalainen – drums

LABEL:

Season of Mist

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