Shape of Despair
Return to the Void


3.8
excellent

Review

by Robert Garland STAFF
March 13th, 2022 | 27 replies


Release Date: 2022 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Sensual moods from the void

It’s raining outside. It’s been raining all week really. If you ever wanted more perfect conditions to be caught listening to new doom metal, I’m afraid you’ll be left waiting for the impossible. You see, a grim day full of grey clouds, wet roads and sombre feels is the ultimate setting for a return to the void—captained by the emotional voyage extraordinaire, Shape Of Despair. Despite this trip’s rather ominous overtones, listeners are in the safest of hands, nursed from start to finish by the greyest beards in the doom business (probably). You see, these Finnish doom masterminds have been on a success streak for over two decades now, carving out a success within their particular niche—despite the pause between vintage and modern releases. I say this because Return to the Void is [somehow] only the group’s fourth release in that time.

Notwithstanding, the die-hard fans know to expect a host of drawn-out and wide-reaching chords. Henri Koivula’s lumbering deep growls and the music’s sense of melancholy combine at the peak of its very own existence. It’s a signature of any Shape Of Despair album—past, present or future. Oftentimes, Shape of Despair’s music is adjusted with a sense of nostalgia, not unlike a chef seasoning a meal with lighter touches of salt. It’s an effect that brings the rest of the band’s fruit to the surface, reinforcing just why each and every aspect is on the palette. It’s music designed to please, while being sombre, thoughtful and provocative; occasional touches of hope rise and fall like broader human emotions. Return to the Void is not detached from this sentiment.

At almost an hour’s run-time, Return to the Void largely runs in similar climes to the group’s 2015 piece, Monotony Fields and yet, it’s discernibly more straight-forwards and occasionally stripped back than its predecessor. The framework is the same, and the album’s opening, titular track paves the same expectable direction as the music released years before it. Powerful chordal structures act as a bedrock for the dichotomy of growled vocals and cleaner singing. This contrast, so expertly used, projects a number of emotions on the listener. You can feel the anguish, despair and frustration in the deepest of the growls. You can feel the loss and longing in the smooth cleans and yet, there’s a sense of hope (occasionally celebration) to be found in Natalie Koskinen’s impactful tones. This is the magic of Shape of Despair; simple sounds and contrasts that breathe atmosphere and emotion, personified in tracks like “Dissolution”. It doesn’t matter that the guitar melodies glide on single note simplicity. It doesn’t matter that the drums count to four so consistently the listener can’t imagine a higher number. All that matters is the feel, the emotion as it caresses, bludgeons and molds the mind’s senses, switching between the obvious light and dark transitions. We could be at a graveside, beside a hospice bed or locked inside our own head (eyes closed), Return to the Void has an impact.

Despite the heaped-on-praise I save for albums from these doom masters, Return to the Void’s straight-forwardness is a slight marring on an otherwise excellent run of deathly funeral doom. While it’s more difficult to argue that the “simple done well” approach of the group’s newest effort has an element of hindrance, Return to the Void at times, lacks the musical depth to really put its listeners on the spot, and a few “wow” moments have been left in the wings. Had these few moments been peppered into the longer track’s, or had their been a short blasting interlude that jarred the listener out of this sombre melancholia, it’s likely the record’s back half would have had such an impact; defining what is essential among doom metal as a genre.

Putting these minor gripes aside, there’s no denying that Shape of Despair on autopilot is still magnificent. Enjoyable dirges remain accessible to the masses and we as listeners keep feeling feelings. Return to the Void is an album made for reviewers to practice hyperbolic sentences. No, that's wrong. Reviewers will find writing about Return to the Void to be hyperbolic, but that doesn’t mean what’s typed is wrong, exaggerated or without merit. We simply hope you forgive these tendencies as they creep into text. Shape of Despair has been defining the best of the genre for so long now it’s hard to imagine another way to describe the band’s compositions without mentioning deviations of “contrast” or “emotion”, giving way to simply describing what’s heard. Return to the Void is less ambitious than its predecessor, but no less impactful. There may be rain, but a new sunrise could just be ‘round tomorrow.




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user ratings (63)
3.7
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2022


18258 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

I am behind on my reviews but you can listen via Bandcamp here: https://shapeofdespair.bandcamp.com/album/return-to-the-void

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2022


10805 Comments


Review reads like a high 3.5, a rating with which I agree.

Great album, and probably the closest these guys have ever been to drone sound.

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2022


18258 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

I can agree with that sentiment. I hope they find a way to be a 'bit' more expressive next time around. I'd hope they don't teeter into Until Death Overtakes Me type doom dirges. I have what I need in the droning style in UDOM.

TheNotrap
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2022


18997 Comments

Album Rating: 3.3

Wasn't your rating 4.2? Glad you're back in the kitchen. Album would benefit from a different drum approach, especially on the first two tracks.

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2022


18258 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

‘‘Twas higher yes. I’ve had time since then to properly sit down with it.

Elynna
March 13th 2022


1449 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This didn't wow me like their previous output, but it's still a very mighty effort. I completely agree with your thoughts

Azog
March 13th 2022


1070 Comments


Not a fan of this sugar coated style of doom, tbh. It's just way too fucking adorable for my taste.

Sometimes I get this feeling like I'm missing out on something, until I give it one cursory listen. This isn't terrible, mind you, but it should be. Because this is supposed to be funeral doom. One shouldn't feel sad while listening to a funeral doom album. You should't be able to feel anything at all, unless it feels like being crushed, slowly.

Egarran
March 13th 2022


34507 Comments


I let myself be swallowed up
The magnificent weight upon me

Ectier
March 14th 2022


2744 Comments


Is this delightful shades of misery and gloom?

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
March 14th 2022


18258 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

It is in equal measure, occasional glimmers of hope dancing in the sunlight.

Ectier
March 14th 2022


2744 Comments


Excellent

Egarran
March 15th 2022


34507 Comments


I like that sometimes they have a break in the gloom and I think 'thank fuck they will increase the tempo here', but no it was just an excuse to go even slower.

Also, what a great vocalist.

Deez
March 17th 2022


10389 Comments


Man, super disappointed in this new one. Not a patch on the last records. Don't really like how the guitars sound here either they're kinda weighless, the whole things pretty monotonous but I've been listening to loads of Ahab and esoteric lately so maybe my funeral doom bars too high but it's not like SOD don't have form

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
March 17th 2022


18258 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

Esoteric are tippy top shelf at the moment agreed.

Deez
March 17th 2022


10389 Comments


Not giving up on this yet will spin a few more times of course

Chippe
March 18th 2022


411 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Adorable doom, I like. Not Monothony Fields, but this is growing better slowly, slowly...

necropig
June 2nd 2022


7424 Comments


need to listen

Deez
June 15th 2022


10389 Comments


Yay definitely growing on me

pizzamachine
June 15th 2022


27389 Comments


This is a growing site

Chippe
June 20th 2022


411 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

The last minutes of Forfeit are so good



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