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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Shroud of Despondency - Pine (2012)

Band: Shroud of Despondency
Country: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Style: Progressive Black Metal
Label: Independent

Throughout this past year, Shroud of Despondency has really done a lot. Last year they happened to release two full-lengths, one to pretty high acclaim, and a demo, which I thought was really solid, as well as a single and a split. That was the band's most productive year since 2002 when their first full-length was released. This new album has really been getting them some a lot of attention and I was hopeful that they would continue their trek of getting better with each release.
When I was listening back to last year's Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion album, it really struck me how much the band has progressed in about a year's time. While I wouldn't say that the band have done a total one eighty and completely switched around their style, that album was very focused sonically, while this one is a lot more varied. While that may not sound like a step forward to some, it is a logical progression. If you can concentrate your energies on writing an album with a singular sound, than the next step is to mix up that flow, add in new flavors while still making it cohesive. It's an album that owes just as much to the band's more melodic black metal roots as it does to doom metal, death metal, grindcore, and neo-folk (or just folk) music. It's a nice mixture of tracks that, while as diverse as they may be, are held together through the use of murky production (in a good way) and progressive ideas that help certain tracks unify easier. Personally, I've always preferred groups that can switch up their sound, hopefully throughout an album, and I'm glad that this band has seen the pros to at least attempting it. I think I should also point out that while I did like their last album, I was not a fan of the vocalist on that album, not that he was bad in any way, his style just didn't sound right with the band's sound in my opinion, but that has since been corrected. The vocals on here are much more suitable in my opinion and they mesh a lot more with the band as a result.
The folk interludes are really something to take note of on here. The four tracks titled Wanderlust all help to unify the album while expanding the band's boundaries even further than before. The sound of folk music isn't new to the band as they've worked it into their last few releases and have crafted full-on folk songs in the past, but on here you can tell that it's come full-circle. The violin and keyboards that accompany most of the interludes breathe new life into them and do allow them to stand out more from the acoustic bits that were used in the band's previous material. While they are used as interludes, for better or worse that is what they are, they are strong enough to stand on their own, so if you took them out of the context of the album, they'd still sound good, maybe a little spotty, but they'd work. If you took out the interludes, and just left the rest of the album alone, I'm afraid to say that it just wouldn't hold up as well. Without the conjoining acoustic pieces, what you'd be left with are a bunch of songs that, while they are certainly good, wouldn't sound like they'd really fit together all that well. The acoustic closer, The Unchaining of An Animal, also really benefitted from having all the brutality and aggression come before it. It acts as a sort of release, when you have all this aggression demonstrated on the metal tracks interspersed with the calmer interludes, it can feel like the album is building towards something big. The ending is perhaps going to be a bit anticlimactic to some who would have wished the band to end the album on a more epic level, but instead you get a release. As the chorus states, "I filled my chest with fresh air," and that's what this closer is, a breath of fresh air into a worn down and harsh world (see the cover).
I really enjoyed the album, considering I wasn't exactly sure how it would sound with such a varied sound, they pulled it off with applause. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by this and I am anticipating the band's next release where they hopefully build even further off of the ideas demonstrated on here. Definitely check these guys out if you're interested in a varied album that really explores different genres and manages to pull them off.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: New Trees, Half Open Gates, The Unchaining of An Animal

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