Shroud Of Despondency – Tied To A Dying Animal (2 CD Deluxe Edition 2014) – What we’ve got is the third outing from Shroud Of Despondency, who began their days playing a rather extravagant version of black metal. On this third album however, they’ve expanded their style to include several different styles of metal and music in general. The release was actually split into two pieces, one being overly heavy (For Innocence, Beauty And Those Who Defile) and the other consisting of light, folk-laden pieces (For Those Who Leave And Find Better Devils). Both discs together make up this whole, and I will walk you through each journey separately.
Metal is explored on the first disc, For Innocence, Beauty And Those Who Defile and as noted; you can certainly hear the influences of Emperor, Enslaved, Immolation, Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower, Slayer, Megadeth, Mercyful Fate, Root and King Crimson. Just as the PR says, they’re definitely there. With the very first song on the album, “A Man Can Dream 7:34” I can discern these influences quite easily. Yet I also can tell that the production value on this album skyrockets beyond the quality of their previous efforts. “Clenched Jaw 6:58” doesn’t seem to bring anything out of the ordinary, but “The Life Of Fire 6:40” brings more black metal influence into the mix than could be heard at the beginning. There’s a nice lead melody that really stands out for me on the beginning of the track and Ron Blemberg’s vocal scowls certainly deliver a threatening performance. Yet I’m again noticing something on this album that I had also noticed upon my first listen, but I guess didn’t want to believe it. In all that has been done well on the disc, there’s just no sense of substance. In other words, many of the songs just all seem to sound the same. It’s not that they’re bad songs, they just don’t really have that much variety despite their thick muscularity. But perhaps the album is too thick in that regard, so it all sort of sounds like one great big jumble. Certainly it’s something that can be further ascertained over time, but for the picky metal listener, I don’t think that this material will affect them quite as well as the music of the bands that influenced it. I’m hearing that Arsis sort of sound here, the kind of thing that happens where you do too much genre mixing. There’s black metal here, prog there, a little thrash here and then you have your gloomy atmosphere here and there to sort of break up the monotony of just too much going on at one time. It’s almost paint by number and seems to point out a common problem that I’ve noticed in American metal today. This isn’t really a problem in other cultures, but our mixing-pot nature seems to be making a goulash of sounds that just don’t stand out as a whole. It’s certainly heavy and it’s certainly venomous with several moments of interest here and there, but in the end; it’s just grey. There’s really no color to it. Or if there is, I have to really soak it for a few days. I just think that the band needs to differentiate in the variety of music here, like one track should have more thrash elements, one should have more black metal elements, another should be more death influenced and so on. The style that they utilize here has been done before, but it’s been done with a more discernible representation. If I went back to the band’s debut, or even Pine I could certainly discern a stark contrast between the music on those records and the music on this one in terms of sheer style. For Innocence… just sounds a bit too much like most of the material that is already out and well represented in the extreme metal scene. In other words, I like what they did – I just don’t like how they did it. It’s eight songs that sound like they’re coming from a band that have reached a standstill with metal to begin with. They’ve literally hit a wall and just don’t seem to have the same vigor or energy on these songs, and the disc has suffered for it.
However, I was more than quite surprised with the band’s folk album, For Those Who Leave And Find Better Devils. This album seems to be something that Shroud Of Despondency really part their heart into, and with compositions as masterful as what’s been displayed here, I wouldn’t care if they never touched heavy metal music again. It’s really quite brilliant and the band thought so too, as they actually released more folk material than they did metal (counting the recommended bonus tracks of course) and I could solely recommend this release on the folk material alone. “Untamed Energy 3:45” walks us through gentle landscapes, through tribal drumming, violins and female background chanting. It would be perfect backing music for something like Game Of Thrones or a fantasy film of sorts. It’s quite soothing and makes me think of these guys in a whole new aspect. “The Sunset Through The Sulfur 3:37” continues our journey, serving as a soothing atmosphere that’s great for lulling one to sleep and accompanying their dreams in the later hours. I have slept to music of this nature before and fell asleep faster and felt more invigorated because of it. Yet, you can also listen to it while in a moment of contemplation as it helps to clear the mind. A few electric leads are featured, but nothing in the way of distraction. “The Whore And The Politician 4:46” actually features clean male and female vocals backing acoustic melodies and some atmosphere. Though it could clearer, I think this song would be well represented on the stage. I’ll have to give it a listen on my personal playlist and see how it fares directly in my ears. “Pollen 4:28” continues our Game Of Thrones style journey, yet it includes some electric guitar sections which actually accentuate the piece. I’m reminded much of Ritchie Blackmore and his folk work in Blackmore’s Night, or even Carlos Santana. Man, that is really beautiful. “Contradiction 4:25” carries the same vibe, yet it also includes a darker set of electric riffs. “Prominent Cross 3:53” has an interesting mist and folk atmosphere to it, like the singer is playing the song in the middle of an air-raid siren. Though I don’t think the vocals are all that special, when I’m reminded of R.E.M.’s frontman, I’m strongly intrigued by them. I never thought R.E.M. influence would appear on this album, but I’m glad to hear that influence here. But regardless of what’s going on, I just can’t hate this album. “Family 5:57” is another one worth mentioning, but I don’t really want to spoil this whole disc for you. There are some sections that are just amazingly golden and emotionally potent.
The disc comes with four bonus tracks, which are “Skim 7:55” another metal number that’s decent enough, “Stem 7:35” which is just as powerful as the other folk pieces, “Towards The Source Of Wind Percussion 5:26” which will work great at your next Pagan gathering, and “The Unrewarding 5:34” which combines the best of both worlds. Two of these tracks don’t have as high of a production quality as the rest, but they show that the band still have plenty of tricks up their sleeve. Having heard all of this material, I feel I must make a suggestion and it might come as a bit of a shock. The intention for this album was to separate the folk sections from the metal sections. But what we’re left with is bland metal and ridiculously great folk compositions. I start to wonder, were the band afraid to mix these two styles together? Would it really be that difficult to take something like “The Life Of Fire” and mix it together with “The Whore And The Politician?” Could you imagine how wonderfully diverse and boisterous that mixture would be? Sections of blistering metal with pieces of folk, tribal percussion and female vocals would be awesome, surely the best thing since Agalloch. They prove that they have the musical skill for each genre, I just would like to see the two halves rejoined into something that could stand on its own as a complete masterpiece. Time will tell however, as to if something of this magnitude would ever occur. But I’ll continue to wait for it. Definitely check this record out regardless, as I believe that there’s strong material on each disc of the album and it should appeal to a vast majority of listeners whom would have never picked up their material to begin with.