Shape of Despair - Illusions Play
Spikefarm Records
Funeral doomdeath with atmospheric moments
6 songs (61'33")
Release year: 2004
Shape of Despair, Spikefarm Records
Reviewed by Alex

Every one of us has got days in his/her life when you feel like ending it all might not be such a bad idea. I have no shame admitting I have had days like that. Some people, luckily a minority, succumb to the overwhelming feelings of grief and despair and commit the unthinkable. Others get through it, without any guarantee the desperation won’t visit again soon. What helps people survive the lowest moments of their lives? Some immerse in work, others want to put a happy spin on everything, ride with joy and force themselves back to normalcy. I belong to the type that mentally seclude themselves, wallow in pity and purge the soul clean. Music has always been a crutch for me on those occasions and funeral doom death style of metal was a perfect backdrop.

It is immensely sorrowful and melancholic doom death that Shape of Despair plays. (By the way, what a name choice for a band!!) This Finnish outfit has been around for a while having already released a couple of albums with their previous 5-tracker Angels of Distress often visiting my player on the down days. Pasi Koskinen of Amorphis (the recent line is he left that band) grunts for Shape of Despair. If it wasn’t for the booklet telling you that you’d never know, as Pasi really didn’t do much extreme vocals with Amorphis. On the latest Illusion’s Play he is joined on vocals by Natalie Koskinen (any relation?). She doesn’t really play a major role on the album but her atmospheric spots are ethereal delight to Pasi’s subterranean bellows.

All music and lyrics on Illusion’s Play are written by Jarno Salomaa (guitars and synth). I do not know what Jarno does in real life, but he is either an extremely despondent individual or Shape of Despair is an outlet for his most depressive emotions. If you ever heard Shape of Despair before, or you have any inclination for this style at all, Illusion’s Play would be everything you’d expect it to be. It is painstakingly slow, protractedly long and brain crushingly monotonous. The riffs of Jarno, Tomi Ullgren (guitar) and Sami Uusitalo (bass) fall down like a Middle Ages executioner’s axe, it chops people’s heads off with the same unavoidable killing motion day in and day out. These heavy chords delivered at the speed of a funeral procession, pounding drums by Samu Ruotsalainen and Pasi’s bottomless growls create an atmosphere of total hopelessness and doomsday. My Dying Bride fans are in for a treat.

To lessen the load and give a listener at least some moments to breathe Shape of Despair included quite a bit of atmospheric moments on this album. Acoustic, synth only or Finnish folk kantele instrument supported, these parts are what is different this time around. Curse Life and, to less extent, Fragile Emptiness, are two songs where the balance between doom and atmosphere is right, both Pasi and Natalie has their say, and the structure holds together. 10 min or so “empty” gaps at the end of Still-motion and title track leave me baffled. In fact Still-motion lulls me so much that when the drums of next track, Entwined in Misery, kick in without a break it startles me every time. Maybe that is how people who are about to undergo euthanasia feel – they struggle with the decision, then 10 min of peace and serenity kick in before they leave this world.

I would have taken the atmospheric parts in stride if melody, pervasive on Angels of Distress, wasn’t mostly missing on Illusion’s Play. So grief-stricken even if repetitive, melody on Angels of Distress created a fabric that brought me back to that album many a times. Illusion’s Play is lacking that gripping vice, that memorable moment. Also, violin which was quite prominent before is largely subdued now as well.

For the fans of the genre only, this album is something you would not have on repeat in your player. Not a throwaway disc by any stretch of imagination I personally prefer previous Angels of Distress from this band, it just suits my moodiness better.

Killing Songs :
Curse Life
Alex quoted 60 / 100
Other albums by Shape of Despair that we have reviewed:
Shape of Despair - Monotony Fields reviewed by Alex and quoted 75 / 100
Shape of Despair - Angels of Distress reviewed by Alex and quoted 79 / 100
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