Shroud of Despondency
Air of Abrasion

Okay, first and foremost, hats off to Mr. Teeth of the Divine himself, Erik Thomas, for sending me Shroud of Despondency‘s latest album, Air of Abrasion for review. Having no experience with the band I wasn’t sure what to expect. I damn sure wasn’t expecting from Air of Abrasion to turn out to be one of my favorite releases of 2022, but well, here I am, and I’ll be damned if Air of Abrasion wasn’t one of 2022’s highlights as far as I am concerned.

While I may not have any prior outings with Shroud of Despondency, or should I say main man and multi-instrumentalist, Rory Heikkila and vocalist, Ron Blemberg, (though the band did get help in the drum department from album mixer and mastering agent, Dan Klein, as well as some help with the bass on the first three tracks from Kyle Heikkila), I have heard/read about the band and their eclectic influences, ranging from Agalloch to Zyklon and many blackened greats in between, but I can’t recall ever actually hearing the band before. A mistake on my part, a huge mistake, maybe even a colossal mistake. That’s how good Air of Abrasion is, so good that as of this writing I haven’t even bothered with delving into any of the band’s back catalog to any proper degree. One, because I can’t seem to pull myself away from A.o.A., and two, I don’t want to take away, for good or bad, any of the fantastic emotion and joy I get from indulging in Air of Abrasion.

Now before we go any further I want to prepare you for the fact that you’re going to see me use the word “brilliant” quite a few times throughout this review, but I won’t make apologies because that is exactly what this album is in a nutshell, brilliant. From top to bottom, from the beginning of the first track until the last note of the fifth and final song of the album, Air of Abrasion is simply brilliant. It’s such a wild ride of an album, with literally the first 3/5ths of the album bringing such a visceral and stunning quality, to the last two tracks showcasing an emotive and musical talent that is flat out levelling on a whole new plane, or at least that elusive plane of musical identity and awareness that few artists actually achieve. I get the feeling that no matter if Shroud of Despondency sold 100 records or 100 million records, their writing and output would still be of the same quality and magnitude.

Opening with “A Boy Called Erosion”, S.O.D. wastes little time in bringing the heat as the blackened fury begins quickly, and with an intensity both melodic and militant in its nature. Fantastic hyper-picked tremolo riffing mixes with a roaring epicness of shredded rasps and blast beats that  ip along as if they were crafted in the bowels of Hell. Pinch harmonics peppered throughout combine with some terrific lead guitar work as well as some crafty keyboard happenings beneath, plus you can actually hear the bass; all of it coming together in a brilliantly pieced-together presentation that is simply just spot on. While I can pick up on a few different acts of influence, I would have to say that based on this opening number, Shroud of Despondency is conjuring up a  wonderful mix of  Naglfar and December Wolves, circa 1998, all while maintaining an aura and identity of their own. The intensity and memorability that S.O.D. manages to bring to the fold is more than impressive, it’s stunningly brilliant.

Similar happenings of fantastic black metal follow suit on the next two tracks. “From the Stomach” hits an early stride, immediately bringing blazing riffing with a sinister-ness and brutality that is as memorable as it is intriguing. The song never loses its steam even at a length of over six minutes, keeping the listener fully engaged, while the added synths and sound effects work marvelously in adding an intense and individual vibe to the majestic, brutal beauty that is achieved during the build-up of it all. That militant edge takes over in spots, mainly due to the brilliant drumming change-ups, adding yet another layer to this complex onion. There is simply a lot going on by the time the song reaches its ending, and the fact that the band never stumbles or falls flat on their ass in bringing it all together is a hell of an accomplishment.

“The Machine That Grinds On is the Machine That Needs Blood” (don’t expect me to type that song out again) brings the ferocity of black metal might together with an industrial-tinged madness and an ornate touch of beauty hiding within the sinister happenings. Chant-like cleans mix with Blemberg’s annihilating rasp producing an almost trance-like nature in the furious pummel of brilliance merging together with sound bites of expressions of individuality and freedom. It all transitions to a more straightforward black metal take  with some hellaciously good blasting, as well as some fantastic and majestic keyboard work that tends to remind me of the best moments of Dimmu Borgir or the like. Nothing you haven’t heard done at this point in black metal, yet everything you want to hear out of black metal. A brilliant track with melodies that get stuck in your head.

“Water in the Cemetary” was where things took a turn of surprise for me, remember, I said I was previously unfamiliar with the band. The track is a distortionless, clean-sung, multi-instrumental piece of melodious brilliance. All of it achieving such a heartfelt reality, that I’m stunned. The first time I heard the track I hit repeat three times. I just felt like it had a cleansing quality in the way that it washed over me. Everything about it, from the ever-so-off-key cleans, to the poignant moving bass, to the little guitar and piano flourishes that all merge in a unique and almost sad yet uplifting experience. This is art my friends.

For every bit of brilliance that “Water in the Cemetary” is, “Entropy Divine” may just be better. Clean picking with simple bass and synths brings a peaceful feel of serenity while a beautiful mandolin(?) line arises, melding everything as the drums build ever so lightly while sly little melodies begin to develop and take shape all around you. In all honesty, it all has a magnificent feel, the magnitude, and quality of a band like Between the Buried and Me at their best. Before too long excellent tremolo-picked riffing shows up with wonderful shrieks and driving drums mixing together with everything so well that it’s mind-boggling, and actually beautiful to boot.  By the time we hit the 4:33 mark it’s full-fledged black metal ferocity at its finest. A glorious black metal rip and tear, fueling some fantastic solos, riffs aplenty, and some on-point furious blasting and tasteful drum work. Scathingly vicious and feral energy pours out of this track, all while memorable hooks and licks of melody abound, though never come off as contrived or pretentious.

The 10:45 mark sees a transition to a flat-out gorgeous and gorgeously played melodious lead and arrangement that brings so much heartfelt sensibilities that it’s damn near tear-inducing. Cleans mix at the 12:19 moment amongst brutal rasps and somber filled melody of black metal brilliance. Seamlessly, the song moves to acoustic and bass-driven elegant beauty, complete with flutes and strings. A peaceful and beautiful landscape fading out into a lone acoustic guitar of brilliance, before again, fading and closing out with just a slight feeling of unresolvement, as the last note of the song doesn’t seem to come back to its root, but I would almost guarantee that this is done purposely for that exact feeling.

Obviously, I’m more than impressed with Shroud of Despondency and Air of Abrasion. This type of album is exactly the type of black metal fury, and even beauty, that simply does it for me. Hands down, one of the best albums to come out of 2022. A complex, intricate, and flat-out brilliant piece of art. How the hell this band remains independent and not on a label is beyond me. I assume it is on their own accord to remain as such, especially when one sees how extremely prolific they are in their releases. If not though, then a label like Willowtip or even Century Media would be wise to take Shroud of Despondency on board. This is top-notch stuff my friends, top-notch in every way.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Kristofor Allred
January 18th, 2023

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