Monday, February 28, 2011

Shroud Of Despondency - Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion

Shroud Of Despondency
Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion
Independent Release

From the outside looking in, it would appear that Shroud Of Despondency had all but given up, with the Milwaukee (U.S.) based black metal outfit’s last offering being some tracks from 2009 effort ‘Objective:Isolation’. But lo and behold, the group have re-emerged with a new line-up (Now comprising of Owlscry vocalist Michael Jurek, guitarist/founder Rory Heikkila, guitarist Jon Liedtke, Cholernik bassist Tyler Okrzesik and Owlscry drummer Jeremiah Messner) and put together a third full-length effort ‘Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion’.
Those familiar with Shroud Of Despondency’s various recorded efforts over the years will be aware that the band have never been the type of act to follow any one particular path in terms of sound and direction within the black metal realm. Instead, the band frees themselves of the preconceived constraints of the genre; taking the listener on a journey that will at times includes elements of the black metal spectrum, rather than simply bludgeon the listener continuously from start to finish. And as expected, ‘Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion’ is another varied and experimental release that drifts in and out of the black metal realm.
The acoustic opening number ‘Seeing One Last Ray Of Light’ provides quite an unexpected start to the album, with the song taking on a folk influence around the midway mark alongside some clean vocals. Although the vast majority of the album takes on a dark tone, there’s clearly an up-tempo, yet sombre presence within this song, which gives the listener a misguided sense that the album will flow along the same path as groups such as Opeth and Agalloch.
It soon becomes apparent that Shroud Of Despondency have no intentions of delivering anything predictable, with the band unleashing their full on black metal assault within ‘Homo Homini Lupus’. From the relentless double bass drums, the tight knit riffing and the tortured screams on the vocal front, ‘Homo Homini Lupus’ is a relentless attack from the moment its unfurled, with only the use of choral vocals and the brief clutches of guitar solos providing any real sense of theatrics amongst the blast of primitive blackened metal.
‘Parting Of The Way’ does tread down a similar path to its predecessor, but with a slower pace and a vocal performance that is at best, described as both primal and hoarse sounding. But what’s really surprising about this track is the addition of clean harmonised vocals around the halfway mark, and its gentle progression back to the opening track over the last three minutes. It’s around this mark that the band introduce a spoken word piece over the music in which the person speaking openly talks about his attempt at suicide while suffering with a bi-polar disorder. While the storyline itself isn’t exactly the lightest of subjects, it does have an air of hope to it, while maintaining the album feel of the sombre and dark. Again, it’s put together in a way that’s quite different, and overall sounds well done.
The middle-eastern influenced ‘Sybil’ maintains the soothing and relaxed vibe of the tail end of the last track, but with a wide array of clean vocals to give the song a completely different angle to the former vocal efforts. While some of the clean vocals are pulled off quite well, some of the lower end vocals are a little off the mark, which tends to take away rather than add overall.
‘Sullen Murmur Oppressive Stillness’ sees the band returning to more familiar terrain, with its straight-forward Darkthrone inspired black metal structure and sound, with some minor diversions around the halfway mark ensuring that its eight minute running time feels much shorter than it actually is. The folk/acoustic based ‘Flicker Of The Ardent Light’ is also quite well done, if a little derivative of Agalloch in places, before blasting listeners one last time with the Hellish closing track ‘To Glisten In All The Colors Of Distress’. At eleven minutes long, ‘To Glisten In All The Colors Of Distress’ goes through a host of changes in the directional sense, with elements of doom, choral hymns and atmospheric passages dotted throughout its duration. Again, while the song is quite long, Shroud Of Despondency does manage to keep things interesting.
Overall, ‘Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion’ is a strange album, and one that doesn’t comfortably fit into the black metal genre exclusively due to its varied influences, and the band’s constant exploration into sounds outside the black metal realm. But what can be concluded after giving the album a good listen is that Shroud Of Despondency is certainly one of the more interesting acts within the scene.
If you’re after something a little different from within the darker side of the metal spectrum, then Shroud Of Despondency’s ‘Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion’ comes highly recommended.

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© Justin Donnelly