Archive for the genre troubles Category

Band Spotlight: Shape of Despair [Funeral Doom] (Finland)

Posted in band spotlight, doom, featured artist, finland, genre troubles, underground with tags , , , , , , on February 23, 2013 by blackmetallurgy

So I know I just did a doom metal one of these, but I’ve been intending to write up a special on Shape of Despair for a while now. I first learned of Shape of Despair last year, when Jamie picked up their album Angels of Distress at the Underground Rock Shop in Newton, IA (which I am told recently moved to Des Moines).

Quite simply, Shape of Despair writes the most heart-achingly depressing stuff I have ever heard. (And I listen to DSBM regularly).

[Complete with an image of a young woman crying on a rock]

Ahem. Anyway, Shape of Despair started off as Raven in 1995, founded by guitarist and keyboardist Jarno Salomaa and bassist/guitarist Tomi Ullgrén; they changed their name to their current moniker in 1998. Salomaa is the mastermind behind the band in terms of musical direction- a direction of which no one seems to be much sure. There is much debate as to what kind of music Shape of Despair is; it’s clearly metal, it’s clearly depressing, but it’s clearly not DSBM. It waffles, I think, around on the edges of gothic and funeral doom, although it does some strange things sometimes that don’t seem to fit in either category. For the sake of clarity, I’ll refer to it as funeral doom; it has that stately feel I associate with the genre.

[Shape of Despair’s early work under the moniker Raven has been released on a CD called “The Eerie Sampler.” This is not that; it’s the first track from their first album, which is pretty much the earliest thing I could find on YouTube]

Shape of Despair seems to have two vocalists at any one time. Vocalist Natalie Koskinen joined the band in 1998, just as they were becoming Shape of Despair, and has been a steady member of the band since. The male vocalists, however, have been less steady, changing  up every album or so. Despite this fact and some rotation in the drummer’s seat, Shape of Despair has had a remarkably steady line up for an extreme metal band.

[You can hear both vocalists here. N. Koskinen’s vocals are incredibly haunting]

Encyclopedia Metallum describes Shape of Despair’s lyrical content as concerning “misery, pain, and loneliness,” which I would say is a pretty accurate description. As I mentioned earlier, this is some of the most depressing music I have ever heard. It’s lovely in its dreariness, but it isn’t something I would recommend if you’re struggling with depression perhaps. Lovely, though, for some late afternoon Void-gazing.

[My god that is wretched]

Unlike a lot of bands, Shape of Despair did not release any demos or EPs before their first album, Shades Of… This is probably because the band operated under the name Raven for the first couple of years, and there was a couple of Raven demos that later became the CD referenced above (as well as an unofficial demo). Instead, the band’s compilation came out in 2005. After that they laid low for quite a while, releasing the Written In My Scars EP in 2010 and a 2011 split with Before the Rain, a Portuguese doom band. They don’t seem to have done much recording since, although they are playing Huntfest in Tallinn soon (with Metsatoll and Finntroll, haha, what a contrast!) and have recently re-released their first two albums on vinyl.

[See what I mean? You think you’ve got these guys figured out, and then they do something different. That beat in the beginning is faster than normal]

[Here’s another one off Illusion’s Play. I love the beginning, and once again the tempo has picked up a bit. This is positively joyful for them]

Although the theme is often the same- slow to mid-tempo, stately, eerie, somber doom- you can hear the variation in the band’s approach in the samples I’ve posted here. It’s good to know that they are still together, and hopefully we will get some new music from them soon. As always, if you like what you’ve heard here, support the band. Shape of Despair is the perfect soundtrack for post-Valentine’s Day (ha) and bleak winters.

[Shape of Despair’s cover of Lycia’s “Estrella,” from their 2011 split with Before the Rain]

[I can’t even imagine what it would be like to actually see them live. This is crazy]



Genre Troubles: Cradle of Filth (With a Short History of the English Gothic Novel)

Posted in genre troubles, musings with tags , , , , , on May 20, 2012 by blackmetallurgy

At my job, where I have been doing lots of lifting and moving books around, I have been listening to all the metal on my iPod in alphabetical order. Today, I reached Cradle of Filth and heard them again, which got me thinking. Every time someone mentions CoF in conjunction with black metal online, some black metal elitist (which I am one part-time, so don’t think I’m just calling names here) says they’re not black metal. And the other day, I saw someone respond “then what do you call them?”

It’s a valid question, and one that I pondered today while putting books on shelves. What *is* Cradle of Filth, exactly? (Don’t get your panties in a bunch just yet. Hear me out first). Their first album is very death metal like, but with the shreiky vocals that are usually in black metal. And you can totally hear the direction they will take later in this track.

Dusk and Her Embrace is very much like symphonic black metal, and I don’t think anyone disputes that fact. It’s a great album, and I’m sure there are a lot of conventionally aware black metal fans who probably have a copy of it, and who probably listen to it when no one is watching.

[This is good stuff, kids]

Midian is where their sound really started to shift, but kids, it’s a great album. I don’t care what anyone says. It’s one of the ones I own, and I’d forgotten how good it is until I stumbled upon it again today. It is a drastic shift from the more black metal sound that they had used previously, however, and this is where CoF starts to get more accessible and better known, and subsequently less liked by the kvlt people.

[Come on. You can pretend like you don’t like it, but I know better]

Now, there are plenty of reasons why people don’t like Cradle of Filth being labeled as black metal, and most of them have to do primarily with the fact that most black metal fans don’t like Cradle of Filth. It’s like when emo kids tried to call themselves punks. It’s far from what is “true,” and it’s annoying to have something that is so distant from what you consider to be the true genre lumped in with the likes of Mayhem and Dissection. Okay. That’s understandable. But why is CoF so annoying?

I am of the opinion that it has to do with their kind of tongue and cheek stance on, well, everything. They are goofy. They are. Sure, Immortal is goofy too, and they’re aware of it, but they still take what they do very seriously. Their songs are about winter, and trees, and Blashyrk. Cradle of Filth’s songs are about virgins in nightshifts fainting on sepulchers and having carnal relations with dead women.

[Um. Yeah.]

Thus, Cradle of Filth brings the cute and fun into things, which, if you remember, the traditional black metal crowd despised. It’s like Cannibal Corpse. It’s over the top and it’s funny, but black metal is supposed to be serious. Even if you’re these guys, at the end of the day, you take your work seriously.

[Serious mountain-skipping]

Musically, however, Cradle of Filth still retains a lot of the same black metal traditions. They use blast beats, there’s lots of tremolo picking, and *some* of their chords are built around the tri-tone, if you tilt your head just right.

[Dani Filth is “Nemethis.” Hehe]

Some people say they’re too symphonic for black metal. Can’t use that. Because AHEM.

[Of course, CoF doesn’t compare to Emperor, but that’s not entirely fair. Most bands don’t compare to Emperor. Either way, the excuse is invalid]

The shrieks are definitely in the tradition of black metal, and they’re primarily why I don’t listen to Cradle of Filth much. Dani Filth’s voice makes my ears want to bleed (and his lisp cracks me up).

[Gabri-ELLLLLLLLLE! *cringe*]

So musically, they’re somewhat like black metal. But there are elements that are radically different. First of all, there’s the female vocals. Cradle of Filth has used them from their early days. In the black metal world, we don’t like our women doing vocals unless they’re shrieking them like a dude (and our vocal cords are actually far better suited to shrieking, gentlemen. Of course there aren’t many of us out there doing it, but that’s not my fault).

[They go a bit overboard on this track, I think. Too much. I loved this song when I was like seventeen though]

Which brings me to another point: women. And this is the reason, I think, that Cradle of Filth can still *MAYBE* be considered black metal. Hold on. We need to move back a little.

Black metal is strongly centered in folklore, right? French black metal bands pepper their stuff with references to the old Gaulish gods like Cernunnos, Scandinavian black metal bands are all about Vikings and the Old Norse gods, USBM bands reference American transcendentalism. So what do English black metal (for the sake of argument, let’s call CoF black metal here) bands reference? Well, English folklore, of course. And CoF are old pros at that. Hence the presence of so many women in their music and imagery. And herein lies the big difference between Cradle of Filth and every other black metal band on the planet- the English gothic novel (this is where I get to show off some of the research I did for my Victorian Novels class).

The English gothic novel got its start in the late Romantic period, but really gained a strong foothold in the Victorian period, when people were particularly terrified of women. Gothic novels became the rage as women were sent to school for once (but only so as to better prepare themselves to keep an eye on their men). These novels appealed particularly to females for few reasons:

1)      Female protagonists. Seriously. The traditional protagonist of the gothic novel is a woman.

2)      …who are recognized as sexual beings

3)      And who also are recognized as being intelligent human beings capable of thought.

The threatening atmosphere of the dank castle or the dark forest put into words the claustrophobic feeling that Victorian women felt at the hands of the patriarchal society that dominated them, which is simultaneously the reason why the person causing the female protagonist so much grief is always some dude. But the woman always escapes one way or another, and she does so by being smart. This was as horrifying to the Victorian gentry as a woman comfortable with her sexuality was, so the gothic novel became “low art” and young ladies were highly discouraged from reading it.

Cradle of Filth, then, can only be said to be relying on their own English folk-traditions of the campy gothic novel. These novels often dealt with the supernatural and the occult (check), witty women- who in Victorian times might as well have been whores (check), and imagery like castles against a stormy skyline and drippy candles (check).

[Another CoF song ripped straight out of the literature, and based on my favorite play]

As a result, there’s a lot more gothic imagery, creepy organ-like music, and sex in Cradle of Filth’s music. Technically, in terms of folk tradition, they’re not doing anything different than the Norsemen, it’s just that their traditions are much kinkier and also are intentionally low-art. A Cradle of Filth song is the modern day equivalent of a penny dreadful.

So does this make Cradle of Filth black metal? Not quite. If I were to categorize them (as I’m about to), I would call them a hybrid of gothic metal and black metal. Like most gothic metal, they utilize the female vocals, and the music has a very romantic feel. The shrieked vocals and blast beats are reminiscent of black metal, certainly, but use of these elements doesn’t necessarily make a band black metal. Grindcore uses them too.

The crossover space does get a bit fuzzy, especially considering certain black metal bands’ fascination with Transylvania. But Cradle of Filth’s gothic is a different breed, and although their earlier stuff may still be considered black metal (really, I think the only reason why it is is because black metal fans don’t hate it), Cradle of Filth have never relied on the tri-tone chord enough for me to feel comfortable saying “Yes. This feels like black metal.”

Could you call it that if you wanted to? Sure. I think you can. Enough of the elements are in common that it makes sense on many levels to call Cradle of Filth black metal. But their gothic overtones have always been equally as present, and in recent years, they have won out.

Final judgement: Cradle of Filth is goth metal, although they had blackened beginnings.

Farewell for now, ladies and gents. I’m off to go listen to more Horna, who I have recently become obsessed with, and sew some more on the battle armor.

[A palate cleanser for the trve]