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Shape of Despair : Angels of Distress : Metal albums reviews

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Shape of Despair : Angels of Distress, brief review

Shape of Despair :  Angels of Distress

Band name: Shape of Despair

If I could translate my saddest moments into audio, the resulting misery would be coded as Shape Of Despair’s second album, and their magnum opus, Angels Of Distress. This is the best funeral doom metal album I’ve heard so far.

I don’t even fully understand why I like it so much. I think it might have something to do with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts: Standing alone, the female vocals wouldn’t sound as atmospheric as they do, but behind the droning drums, drawn-out guitars, and flowing synths, they sound perfect. And this goes for every other aspect of the album, where they all fit together like a complete jigsaw puzzle.

What Angels Of Distress also shows other up-and-coming doom metal bands is something very important: You do not require to play at agonisingly slow speeds to make quality funeral doom. The final track “Night’s Dew”, is quite rapid, compared to doom metal standards, but the guitar and violin mixed in make it the ultimate closer of this fantastic album. Even the title track seems fast, but it also appears to be one of the more melancholic songs here, particularly at the start.

The vocals are sublime. While this guy could easily work his way into a death metal band, his delivery here is simply marvellous. He’s powerful and emotional at the same time, which is rare for growling. So is his legibility…each word is easily heard, and you can easily follow the lyrics and sing along. What makes his vocals more precious is the fact there are not a lot of them throughout the album…most of “Fallen”, except the very end, is an instrumental, and “Night’s Dew” is a complete instrumental, with large, silent breaks in the middle 3 songs. He’s a very powerful vocalist, and I would love to hear more of him in other funeral doom albums, as he just brings the music to life.

Speaking of music, what we have here are some of the saddest music pieces I’ve heard. The track “…To Live For My Death…” contains the most depressing opening riff I’ve ever heard, which thankfully is repeated at the end of the song. What brings this riff up (or crushes it, whatever you prefer), is the use of the violin. I think if Toni Raehalme was not a part of Shape Of Despair, this album would probably get an 80, tops. Her inclusion ensures that Angels Of Distress is the best, depressing album it could’ve been. My favourite violin section occurs at 14:45 on “…To Live For My Death…”, which makes the riff even sadder, and is quite literally a depressant.

As the only album to make me cry, Angels Of Distress deserves nothing less than the highest possible score. I must admit that by the end of the album, I am emotionally drained. I could commence it happy, but then my happiness would go down exponentially, particularly during the last two songs (whatever shred of happiness you have at the end of “…To Live For My Death…” is stripped away with the closer). Shape Of Despair’s other two albums do not reach the heights that this one does (the debut is too repetitive for me, but, as the reviews state, others can see the joy in it), so this could be the best the band comes up with. All fans of funeral doom must have this album, as it’s a complete masterpiece and deserves the recognition.

I once had a conversation with a young lady that revolved around our respective preferences in music, and I declared, with a slight amount of pride, that I had an affinity for dark, depressing music. Naturally, she could not understand why I would choose to listen to something so miserable in tone and not something happier and upbeat. I suppose that, given my own experiences with depression, I would be drawn to such things in music, but I could never understand why people are so reluctant to explore the darker side of life in music. And when I want to do just that, the first album I reach for is "Angels of Distress" by Shape of Despair. I do not give out 100% scores easily, but this album is just so utterly perfect in the evoking everything funeral doom SHOULD evoke that I cannot find fault with it at all.

Quite simply, this album is "the" soundtrack to depression, loneliness, and pain. Sure, bands like Anathema, My Dying Bride or Forgotten Tomb can write depressing as hell lyrics, but Angels of Distress stands alone as the only album that truly captures the essence of depression in the music and songwriting itself. If you've ever experienced the misery of true depression, the emotions and atmosphere evoked by this album will be very familiar to you. This album is pain and misery incarnate, but not the everyday melancholy of existence, and certainly not the "oh, my girlfriend dumped me" kind of pain. No, Shape of Despair, being true to their name, have created an album from the deepest, most unbearable suffering. This is the kind of pain you feel when you have lost everything dear to you and when there is absolutely no hope, no joy, and no happiness left in life.

Angels of Distress begins with opener "Fallen," which starts out with a sinister keyboard line before a mammoth-sized riff crushes whatever hope and joy you had left into dust, yet this track is merely a taste of what is to come. From the moment the title track begins, the listener is carried away by the grinding guitars, the deeply growled vocals of Pasi Koskinen and the ethereal vocals of Natalie Koskinen, which add an almost angelic quality to the proceedings. Combining all these elements together, Angels of Distress perfectly captures the sluggish, miserable, weighted-down feeling of depression, with compositions that ebb and flow but never become boring or repetitive. There's a noticeable classical influence here as well, from the piano opening to "Quiet These Paintings Are" which sounds reminiscent of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, to the violin pieces that provide an elegant counterpoint to the crushing guitar riffs. Keyboards are used tastefully, and never overshadow the guitars or become intrusive. Every instrument is in the exact place it should be; there is no passage that feels too long, too short, or out of place.

The overall image I get when listening to Angels of Distress is being utterly alone in a dark winter's forest underneath a moonless night sky, totally separated from all sources of light, warmth, and happiness. Or when I hear "Quiet These Paintings Are" I imagine myself sitting alone in a darkened manor, looking at the paintings on the wall and imagining all the people I've loved who are now gone. It's this incredible ability to evoke images and emotions that sets Angels of Distress apart from other doom metal offerings, and no place is this more apparent than the 17-minute "...To Live For my Death." It begins with a haunting string melody which then progresses into what has to be the saddest, most despairing melody I've ever heard. Whatever feelings of hope or happiness that you have left will be utterly swept away, and when you hear the first line, "all life...will be gone...soon..." you can just FEEL the hopelessness and despair in the singer's voice, and when Pasi sings "nothing left to feel...nor to understand" he truly sounds as if he's lost the will to live entirely. The album finally comes to end with the instrumental closing track "Night's Down" that's the fastest song on the album, and the only track that provides a ray of hope in contrast to the inescapable blackness that has come before. Contrary to what one might think, when I finish listening to this album, I do not feel depressed or miserable. Rather, the whole experience is quite cathartic, and whenever I'm feeling down and depressed I know precisely what album to listen to.

In terms of production, Angels of Distress is almost flawless. The guitars have the perfect combination of crunch and heaviness, the drums have crispness and force behind them, and everything is mixed at just the right level. For a funeral doom album, I could not ask for better production than this.

If you're the sort of person who's turned off by relentlessly depressing music, than you won't enjoy this, obviously. But if you're drawn to the darker emotions of life, then I challenge you to find a more sorrowful, depressing album out there.

Album: Angels of Distress, review

The bands country origin: Finland

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