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Shape of Despair – Alone in the Mist Review

Band: Shape of Despair
Album: Alone in the Mist
Label: Season of Mist
Genre: Funeral Doom
Country: Finland
Release Date: December 9, 2016

Shape of Despair is a staple in the funeral doom scene, and if you like your music lengthy, slow, and with a guitar tone thicker than molasses, then the band is for you.  This is perhaps one of the strangest reviews that I’ve written, mostly because the demo album Alone in the Mist was released in 1998.  Back then, the band was known under the moniker Raven, and the fledgling group was a newcomer to the funeral doom scene. Shape of Despair re-released the album Alone in the Mist in December of 2016.  It’s an excellent entry point for any newcomers to the subgenre, and a retrospective look back at a release that has helped define the funeral doom movement of today.

So, let’s take a step back to 1998 – the same year that saw seminal metal albums such as Gorgut’s Obscura and Opeth’s My Arms, Your Hearse.  The Indianapolis Colts picked up Peyton Manning as their rookie quarterback in the NFL draft and Bill Clinton was under fire for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.  We all know how that turned out.  And of course, Shape of Despair (the review will use this name for the sake of continuity, but they were still known as Raven at the time) released their debut record Alone in the Mist.

Let’s get to the music.

It’s clear that the opener “Down into the Steam” expresses the band’s signature sound.  Toni Mäensivu, on vocal duties at the time, showcases death growls that are low and guttural.  Tomi Ullgren, who stuck with Shape of Despair through thick and thin, coaxes down-tuned, churning riffs from his guitar.  Jarno Salomaa also shared guitar duties, but perhaps more importantly, has been the genius behind the band’s keyboards since its inception.  The keys on Alone in the Mist give the album a dark, redolent mood.  It’s almost as if the listener is trudging through a haunted fen.  Jet black crows croak songs of malice from their perches on gnarly, ancient willow trees, and dirty swamp water sloshes around the traveler’s boots.  It’s hard to tell what’s in the deeper water, but it’s probably a good idea to steer clear of it.  Like Salomaa and Ullgren, Natalie Safrosskin has been a member of Shape of Despair from the beginning.  She dishes out lilting vocals in various tones throughout the album.  Finally, the rhythmic center of the band was in the hands of Toni Mäensivu, who makes good use of the cymbals throughout Alone in the Mist.

“To Adorn” follows a similar pattern to the opening track.  “Shadowed Dreams” and “Woundheir” borrow the same recipe, albeit with more featuring of the keyboard.  These songs are all at least 8 minutes in length, and this is where the album demonstrates its weakness.  Funeral doom is often rugged and a bit repetitive, and that’s the vibe that’s felt here.  There’s not quite enough variation to make it interesting.  This is something that Shape of Despair addresses on subsequent albums, but it’s a notch against the band on Alone in the Mist.  “…In the Mist” is the strongest song on the record, hands down.  The keys have a delightful melody running throughout this monolith of crushing sound, and the vocals are ruthless.  Alone in the Mist closes out their debut album with “Outro,” an instrumental that serenades with peals of thunder and torrents of rain.  This track would have better served as an interlude earlier in the album, but it’s still a refreshing closer.

Overall, the remastering on Alone in the Mist is adequate.  Volume levels are normalized and the guitar tone is much thicker.  The vocals are predominant and the keys don’t get drowned out by the rest of the band.  There is still come clipping on various parts of the album, so it’s not perfect.  Still, the re-release of Alone in the Mist boats new, more colorful album art and dramatically increases the number of copies that are available of the album.  It’s a win-win situation for new admirers of the band, and the diehard fans can keep their Raven copies as collector’s items.

It’s difficult to grade an album that was released many years ago. There are some obvious Achilles’ heels to Alone in the Mist, but overall it’s a solid record that has stood the test of time.  Fans of Shape of Despair’s newer material will want to listen to this album if they haven’t yet.  Shape of Despair released another album in 2015 entitled Monotony Fields, and if you’re interested in a more refined soundscape, then that’s for you.  Alone in the Mist is a crushing rendition of funeral doom that has positively influenced other bands in the 18 years since the album’s initial release.  So what are you waiting for?  It’s on Spotify, it’s on Amazon – get listening!

Rating: 7/10

Tracklist:

  1. Down into the Stream
  2. To Adorn
  3. Shadowed Dreams
  4. Woundheir
  5. …In the Mist
  6. Outro

Total Playing Time:  52:24

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