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Whispering Shadows : Compendium Of Sorrow (Reissue)

Whispering Shadows' debut full-length has the power to make you wonder if dawn can ever lighten the skies again.

Now, this is long overdue. I confess to having promised to review it back when the world was young, and even set out to track down a CD copy, as originally released back in 2014 on the Cvlminis label. By the time I'd done that - and, admittedly, prevaricated a little afterwards - I'd learned it was to be reissued with a couple of additional tracks via Satanarsa, so it seemed logical to wait and cover this version instead.

To be fair, it was worth waiting for: the original four tracks have been given a polish, with a brighter, slightly louder remastering that sharpens up the guitar, the two extras ('Honour The Dead' and 'Funerium') add an extra half-hour of runtime, and the packaging has been reworked (with the assistance of Narrow House's Bewitched) for a tidier, cleaner look.

So, Whispering Shadows is a one-man project: its creator, Silencer, being one of the founders of the 'Withered Hands' podcast series and, amongst other things, an occasional live guitarist with the aforementioned Narrow House. His solo works have centred around various extreme directions, mainly combining Ambient, Funeral and Black/Doom elements with differing degrees of aggression and tempo: 'Compendium Of Sorrow' is at the slower and darker end of that spectrum, drifting through lengthy and murkily oppressive atmospheric works with a fatal and unhurried inevitability.

The building blocks here are the expected Funeral Doom ones: most of the heavy lifting is done by guitar rising out of a background distortion and drone, rhythms sporadically punctuated by a layer of programmed drums, while voice, keyboards and odd effects sit some way back. The overall feel of a disturbing, shadowy, and nebulous landscape behind the improvisational, evolving guitar lines falls somewhere between the more melodic Mistress Of The Dead and the harsher Hierophant/Catacombs sound - though Whispering Shadows do inject more pure ambience on this release. Of particular note are the disquieting vocals, ranging from almost wordless sound to distant shrieks, sometimes descending into ranting madness, sometimes growling or whispering, but always delivering a tormented sense of agonies in extremis. Expected elements, certainly, yet used very effectively within the compositions: their comparative simplicity and minimalistic nature nonetheless build into ever-changing edifices which, despite their length, never become tedious.

It's far from an easy or comfortable listen, though, despite the often-tranquil underlying waves of quietly droning sound, or softly melodic keyboards. Even when these materialise as lengthy sections of their own, such as on opening track 'Sunset Sees The Children Blister', there are grimmer passages waiting to mutate their calmness into a foreboding and moody anticipation of impending dread. And when these same softer components are alternatively deployed with odd, unbalanced rhythmic twists, they simply add to the surreal slow-motion horror of the main instrumental thrust. Rather like being trapped in one of those nightmares where you can barely move, let alone run, the leaden pace exerts a horrifyingly seductive fascination that - if anything - is less bearable for its being founded in another's pain rather than your own.

Highlight of the album, for me, is the brilliantly-contrasted 'Requiem', with choral voices and sombre organ playing off against cruelly knifing guitar and a stream of harshly gibbering vocal supplications and apologies: it's an almost perfect representation of the naked distress that can be projected into this dreamlike soundscape. And with the other pieces not far behind in capturing that atmosphere, you're unlikely to find much solace here; perhaps the best to be hoped for is a sense of articulated kinship. So, if you're looking for a compulsive swirling misery to journey with during your darkest, most haunted hours, 'Compendium Of Sorrow' has the power to make you wonder if dawn can ever lighten the skies again. Or, indeed, if you even want it to.

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Reviewer's rating: 8/10


Tracklist :
1. Sunset Sees The Children Blister
2. Compendium Of Sorrow
3. Descending Into Despair
4. Honour The Dead
5. Funerium
6. Requiem

Duration : Approx. 77 minutes

Visit the Whispering Shadows bandpage.

Reviewed on 2016-03-26 by Mike Liassides
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