I’ll let you in on the secret to a critique: it’s about evaluating what the work is trying to achieve, and how well it’s able to pull off its vision. You can apply this to criticism of nearly any form of art-film, books, music, whatever. So the first thing I did when looking at Shroud of Despondency’s new album, Pine, was evaluate just what it was setting out to do. A cursory sampling of tracks seemed to indicate that the band was trying for a traditional black metal sound, while the album title and cover and song titles told me that they were making at least a cursory attempt at appealing to the eco-BM crowd. But if they’re making an attempt at creating only tr00est black metal, they make a number of crucial missteps.
I’m gonna go ahead and lead with something nice to say about this record: track 1, “Wanderlust (Winged Seed in the Breeze)” is awesome. At first I was ready to dismiss it as yet another atmospheric black metal intro track, but the eerily strummed mandolin or whatever it is totally sold me on this song. Impressed by the opening, I was ready to move into the meat of an album…and promptly found myself disappointed. After the first few minutes of “Overshadow”, Shroud of Despondency had proven themselves to be a rather dull interpretation of traditional black metal…with a few odd choices that make this even worse.
First off, the production isn’t fitting the music at all. When I listen to trad BM, I can at least count on a lo-fi atmosphere and a strict adhering to the tenants of black established in Norway all those years ago. The oddly present drums, popping bass and clear guitars…it’s like they want us to hear what’s happening behind the mysticism of black metal, which defeats some of the purpose. This can of course be overlooked if the songs themselves are solid, but unfortunately the Shroud fellas disappoint again. There’s some odd inclusions in the songwriting that don’t make sense; at times they seem like they’re making a shoutout to metalcore, with layered low/high harsh vocals (as seen on the previously mentioned “Overshadow” and elsewhere), sweep-picked guitar solos (“New Trees”) and an occasional, plodding, almost breakdown-esque predilection toward slower riffs (most of the songs). And the pure black metal bits are pretty boring on their own, which doesn’t help matters at all. When I look at my music player two minutes into “Half Open Gates” wondering when it’s over and groan out loud when I see seven minutes left of the song, you should probably put effort into making your music more interesting.
The saving grace of this record is that “Wanderlust”, that cool ambient song, makes three more appearances across the record. Those four tracks could probably be put together into one 14-minute piece, and I’d actually enjoy listening to it. More and more esoteric instrumentation appears as the piece goes on, including cellos and violins, and it makes me wish these guys had gone into bizarro blackened ambient instead of…whatever this record is. As is, a cool 14 minutes isn’t enough to salvage an otherwise bland, poorly assembled 58 minute record.
Like I said up there, the key to criticism is evaluating what the artist’s goals were for a piece, and how well they were pulled off. It’s difficult to say what Shroud of Despondency were going for with Pine-if it’s traditional black metal, it’s a failure; if it’s some black/metalcore combination it doesn’t work; if it’s about making you wish it was over, it pretty much nails it.