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Shape Of Despair : Monotony Fields

Still masters of their art: Shape Of Despair's end to their long absence was worth the wait.

The Mayas had it all wrong: the end of the World wasn't meant to be 2012, but in fact 2015. How could I know that? Easy: 2015 is the year in which Shape Of Despair, Skepticism and Tyranny will all release new albums. Three-pronged Finnish attack, and we're gonna be Funeral Doomed like it's 2004. But the main question is: considering the state of the Funeral Doom scene in 2015, will these albums be relevant?

Anyone who had known the glorious days of Funeral Doom (circa 2002/2005, roughly) always feels a sting of nostalgia coming when remembering those times. That doesn't mean that there haven't been some great albums released since those days (bands like Colosseum, Monolithe, Mournful Congregation, Worship, Profetus or Doom:VS have released some consistent, even groundbreaking, records after 2005), simply that none of them had the same feeling as those old ones. It's always the same: we're longing for the past, even modifying somewhat our memories to make it better than what it really was. And when listening to 'Monotony Fields', it seems to me that Shape Of Despair have somewhat decided to cash in this nostalgia for their older works: simply because you'll find there's strictly no musical difference from 'Illusion's Play', which was released in 2004.

Getting stuck on an well-established musical formula is, for a band, both a strength and a weakness. It's a strength because it gives the fans what they want to hear, and assures that there will always be a fanbase for the style, whatever year the album is released: bands like AC/DC, Motörhead or Saint Vitus rely heavily on such a formula, not only because this is what they like to play, but also because it gives their fanbase a sense of security in knowing that their favourite band will never try different stuff and go 'sell-out' (or so they think). On the opposite side, innovative bands, those that aren't afraid to challenge common conceptions about their music can alienate part or all their fanbase when going a bit too much off the road: My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost were prime examples of bands losing touch with their fanbase when experimenting too much, while - on the other hand - Anathema's fanbase followed them until they were no longer even Metal at all. If we relate this to the Funeral Doom genre, we see that it's an extremely codified one in which most of the fans tend to be very conservative when it comes to how they like the way their music should be played: going to the extreme, this gave us the famous 'Firebox sound' (where nearly every band sounded the same), which influence can still be heard nowadays in the majority of the Russian-speaking scene.

Despite its name, 'Monotony Fields' isn't boring at all. The majority of the work has been done in bringing back those atmospheres and dreamy sound that were the identity of the Finnish scene. Once again, the alternation between majestic keyboards and soft feminine vocals helps the music to go straight to the point, creating a soundscape of real beauty. But we're talking about Funeral Doom here, so cold-and-heavy-as-a-marble-headstone guitars and deep abyssal growls are also present. The only monotonous point of the record (which is, in fact, done on purpose) is the recurrence of different melodies between some tracks: this helps in getting the listener concentrated on the music, and makes the whole album sounds more like a single track divided into different parts than just a sum of songs. And despite all that, the album is quite easy to grasp and make a fine point of entry for any newcomer wanting to know what Funeral Doom is all about.

With 'Monotony Fields', Shape Of Despair have made their most easy-listening album to date. They've also shown that they are still masters at their art, and that a slumbering beast can awake at any time, to crush the nearby village. Such is the power of 'Monotony Fields', that it sounds like if the last decade hadn't existed at all. Nostalgia has never been so good to be drowned in.

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Reviewer's rating: 8.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Reaching the Innermost
2. Monotony Fields
3. Descending Inner Light
4. The Distant Dream Of Life
5. Withdrawn
6. In Longing
7. The Blank Journey
8. Written In My Scars (bonus track)

Duration : Approx. 74 minutes

Visit the Shape Of Despair bandpage.

Reviewed on 2015-07-13 by Laurent Lignon
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