Review Summary: After 11 years, Shape of Despair have arguably created an album which will prove to be just as good, perhaps even better than the past three albums. The wait has definitely been worth it.
There are certain bands this year who have made excellent comeback albums after having had either a much-needed hiatus or who have simply not been able to be more consistent with writing music because of various reasons. So far we've had the excellent A Umbra Omega
by Dodheimsgard (8 years), the predictable yet still highly regarded Black Age Blues
by Goatsnake (15 years) and just recently Shape of Despair's latest full-length release, the aptly titled Monotony Fields
. And just like the aforementioned albums, Monotony Fields
more than exceeds expectations, almost to the point where you could possibly believe Shape of Despair's latest venture into darkness is their defining masterpiece. Indeed, it is quite the astounding comeback after 11 years.
When considering the overall quality of an album like Monotony Fields
, there seems to be a lot of influential factors. Everything about Shape of Despair's latest full-length seems to have had the utmost focus and attention given by each member of the band. Each respective part of the band's musical output here contribute effectively to one unique, fluent sound which very rarely lets the listener down. The atmospheric build-up of most songs leads seamlessly into heavier territory, as is evident on songs such as the spectral opener "Reaching the Innermost" and the equally astounding title track. Yet the atmosphere itself seems to come in many forms throughout Monotony Fields
. Whilst some may persist that the atmosphere is simply one-dimensional, there are numerous occasions where you can pick apart each song and unfold layers, before putting them back together and discovering that really the songs give off a better impression when there isn't too much focus on one aspect of the overall sound. The way in which keyboard and synthesiser elements segue into the melancholic thunder of the rhythm section and then featuring flawless transitions between clean and harsh vocal styles, as with "Descending Inner Night" and "The Blank Journey", seems to be the one of the definitive things which keeps Monotony Fields
from growing stagnant. Of course, the album's gargantuan length (the average song time turns out to be over nine minutes long) doesn't make it any easier to grasp any sense of immediacy or in-your-face aural battery, but this is, at heart, funeral doom metal. And it is done so brilliantly.
Stepping away from the musicianship for a moment, you have to consider the influence of the lyrical content and its vocal interplay. Whilst the lyrical side of Monotony Fields
doesn't present any surprising or shocking themes (depression, bleakness, darkness, isolation, etc.), the content here is still vital and at times, strangely seductive. Each word is strenuously pronounced to give the listener the full doom-laden experience, and as Henri Koivula sorrowfully roars 'We could only gaze at the eager distance
' and 'Taken down, Gone my will, Touch the ground, Perpetual void
' in "Reaching the Innermost" and the title track respectively, the brooding power excels beyond any expectation. Complementing this is the way in which vocal transitions appear at the right moment, and also how this corresponds to the lyrical meaning of each track. Whereas Koivula provides the harsh vocals, he also proves how versatile his range can be, particularly when singing cleaner styles in songs such as "Descending Inner Night" and "In Longing" among others. It sounds even better when female vocalist Natalie Koskinen joins Koivula in providing twin lead vocal harmonies midway through both songs, and the enchanting impression this gives off is simply another special something to make the sound denser than it appears.
At 75 minutes long, Montony Fields
surprisingly never becomes stale or slips up in its seemingly endless venture into bleakness. Sure, a couple of songs stand out as being weaker than their longer counterparts (namely "Withdrawn" by a margin), but the fluency of the album itself makes sure that what you're really experiencing is a resemblance of a soundtrack to the end of the world. From the entrancing beginning of "Reaching the Innermost", through the mesmerizing Gothic tones of the title track and towards the end of melancholic closer "Written in My Scars", Shape of Despair have created arguably their latest masterpiece. Sure, this album may only resonate with lovers of the darker, more extreme side of metal, but it's hard not to enjoy at least one aspect of Monotony Fields