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Shades Of Deep Water : Death's Threshold


The second full-length by Shades Of Deep Water sees the band reach new highs, and results in pure excellence.



Shades Of Deep Water is a band that emerged in the mid-2000s taking initial influence from Shape Of Despair's debut. For much of its existence it was shrouded in mystery with almost no information available - no bio, no interviews, no pictures - nothing except weird tapes with bleak badly drawn artwork. The releases were equally underground - mostly demo tapes usually featuring no more than the mastermind Juho Huuskola's initials and some composition dates. Artwork was either nonexistent or made of crude drawings and bleak landscapes. Most of the releases shared the same structure - monotonous and very guitar driven with a main melody that evolves and always comes back altered, like variations on a theme. There are no real build ups, no climaxes or crescendos, just pretty flat mid-tempo Doom. You can argue that most of the band's output sounds similar as the main rhythm has not really changed since the beginning and a few riffs are reimagined in a slightly different form throughout the years making each release somehow familiar in a good sense. You know what to expect but each time it comes with a new twist and better execution.

The good-looking LP release of the band's second full length, 'Death's Threshold', shows that, twelve years after the debut, Shades Of Deep Water is a rather different beast. Gone is the anonymity - full size photos of the guy behind the initials adorn most of the back cover and the printed inner sleeve of the vinyl. The rest of the art is comprised of beautiful soft colors flowing seamlessly into one another. These wonderful paintings give the album a highly professional look. It was released through Dunkelheit Produktionen, a label that has been a longtime supporter of the band, usually distributing the limited tapes J.H. released independently.

But as you drop the needle you are immediately welcomed to the well-known sound from the band. Fortunately nothing much has been changed in the formula that has worked so well through the years, a self-confessed minimal approach - to start from the melody and add instruments around it only until the music has "come to life", without anything excessive. Very monotonous tempo, courtesy of the drums and cymbals, simple but effective melodies and a lovely raw, intimate and authentic production result in pure excellence. The nice warm analogue sound with plenty of depth has always been one of the most alluring traits of the band as it sounds truly authentic, as if you are there in the basement while he is playing his instruments, taking you closer to the music and immersing you more thoroughly. The only problem I can notice is the occasional spillage of excess bass that is quite typical for this style. The fact that J.H. records everything himself is evident and very beneficial as all his releases share certain familiar sound qualities.

There are a couple of key differences though. The sound is much slower and heavier, especially if you compare it to the previous couple of EPs, which were very diverse and somewhat lighter in tone. The other new inclusion is the cello, or whatever the unspecified string instrument is. It might be keyboards but it sounds mostly like genuine cello so I am going to call it that. The cello is simply stunning and elevates the music tremendously. It suits the music so well and gives it a nice drawn-out feeling.

All tracks are around the ten minute mark which is the longest they've been since the second demo tape, 'Closure'. The album itself is a single song separated into four unnamed parts. It starts with a gentle, ominous, slow and grand cello perfectly setting the somber mood of what is to follow. And what follows is what we have come to expect from Shades Of Deep Water only executed to perfection while the underlying cello ascends it to a whole different level. The vocals are much more pleasing to the ear, they have not lost their raw, rough and misery filled nature but are just more enjoyable. There is also a piano which only sets in during the quieter moments and once again sounds very authentic like the rest of the music.

The melodies are dark, fully captivating and take you on a journey, completely engulfed. There are moments where you just cannot help but stop and listen intently, utterly immersed and amazed. The guitars are not too heavy but certainly strong and thick enough to have the desired effect, leading a slow march to the burial. The breaks filled with Dolorian-style clean notes and soft blissful cello give a sense of finality, like a spirit, sad and fallen, with no strengths left, brought to peaceful resignation, not too depressing but rather softly melancholic. It sounds truly tragic while the grunts give it a miserable but sometimes menacing feeling.

The vocals are very deep, sparse and placed somewhat in back of the mix giving the whole album a slight instrumental feeling which is a pity as they are the best they have ever been and deserve more exposure. They are heavy, slightly desperate, rough and stained. At times they sound a bit tired like he’s not giving them enough weight but all in all the solitary grunts among slow heavy riffs remain the roughest part of the music, giving it the most edge.

The highlight is certainly the slow dragging sound of the cello which is simply created for this type of music, the doomiest of all classical instruments, and I really hope that J.H. will keep it in the future. It is such an amazing idea as the cello is so fitting, so elegant, it provides so much emotion, atmosphere and crawling melodies. It is quite a feat that that the execution is so perfect, from the very first try J.H. uses it to enormous success. The weeping sounds just embrace and overwhelm you. When it gets center stage it is stunningly beautiful and fascinating, giving the music class, note after note, mournful, bittersweet, painting sadness so elegant and gentle, filling your heart with melancholy. It has the power to infect the music with its sorrow and make even the catchy riffs sound more subdued and constrained.

'Death's Threshold' displays wonderful songwriting and is much larger than the sum of its parts. Each song could be listened on its own and it will be enjoyable but it all makes sense when you indulge from start to finish as every song has it place. The theme is the same throughout the album, the tracks are consistent even though each one is different and has a specific role. The first one provides a slow introduction, setting the tone, gently allowing us in. The second part is the only place where speed is gained showcasing almost vitality. With multiple shorter, catchy and chugging riffs it is closer to the riff roller-coaster from the previous couple of releases. The third song is a transition, once again setting the atmosphere, bringing down the mood for the final part, the longest and slowest one, a tragic finale to the album. So even though made of separate distinct parts, it evolves as a whole, each part introducing the next.

The emotion emanating from this release is sincere, raw and heartfelt without any pretense. Neither über depressive nor tortured, nothing is too exaggerated which makes it feel more humane and close. The honesty and sincerity makes it sound relatable, the feelings and atmosphere expressed are almost familiar. The journey is made to be accommodating and pleasing so as to lose ourselves while it takes us down. 'Death's Threshold' is really the most accomplished Shades Of Deep Water album thus far and whilst I still love the wretchedness of the early releases, this is not simply progression - with just a few perfectly chosen new elements and improvement of the established formula, it is elevated to a pure masterpiece.


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Reviewer's rating: 9/10

Information

Tracklist :
1. Death's Threshold - Part 1
2. Death's Threshold - Part 2
3. Death's Threshold - Part 3
4. Death's Threshold - Part 4

Duration : Approx. 41 minutes

Visit the Shades Of Deep Water bandpage.

Reviewed on 2020-01-21 by Klamerin Malamov
Thermal Mass
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