Shroud of Despondency
Family Tomb

Well here it is. At least based on this interview, this is Rory Heikkila’s final release doing business under the Shroud of Despondency brand. This is a huge bummer for those in the know, but I can’t be too sad about it, because Family Tomb is one hell of a consolation. I haven’t enjoyed a Shroud of Despondency release this much since the band’s first demos and debut album, For Eternity Brings no Hope.

Family Tomb inhabits the same badlands that the final three Emperor albums did; a place where the progressive, high-brow bombastic pomp of symphonic black metal met and made alliance with vicious and visceral barbarity of death metal. Rory has always sited Emperor as a major influence, and I don’t think it has ever been more blatantly apparent than on this release.

For what was readily admitted by the band to be a DIY, no budget, “recorded on busted up old crap”, affair; I love the sound of Family Tomb. The raw recording of these fairly complex compositions lends it an immediacy and intimate vibe that that made me feel like I’m getting to hear something only meant for a select few, warts and all. Besides, with songs this strong, studio bells and whistles would only get in the way.

The recording is truly in service to the songs; Rory’s penchant for polyphonic composition and instrumental counterpoint lay bare and blatant for those knowing what to look for. Ponderous, walking bass carry throbbing melody lines, which is a technique that was utilized early on in Shroud of Despondency’s career, and I was stoked to see a return of that style. Layers and layers of guitars morph and shift harmonically in perpetual motion, swirling and dense like a poisonous fog full of wasps.

The only holdover from the final Shroud of Despondency line-up is longtime cohort Ron Blemberg, who also sung on the prior two full lengths, various splits, and odds and ends that this band always seem to generate between proper releases. Ron sounds amazing on this, both complementary to the music, and confrontational to the listener.

Range isn’t really the right word when describing atonal extreme metal vocals, but Ron has a few different styles that he switches to and from to great effect. From a caustic “gargling draino” rasp comparative to Grutle Kjellson of Enslaved, to a hoarse, sorrowful bellow characteristic of early Katatonia or Bethlehem. On the track “In View of Birth”, there is a double tracked vocal part with a deeper, semi-guttural death metal roar sung in tandem with Ron’s higher register shriek that added a cool dimension to this song.

The real MVP of Family Tomb are the keyboards; which is sort of surprising to me. It seemed like on the past few albums, a significant amount of the beautiful acoustic sections characteristic of early Shroud were forsaken in lieu of adding more keyboards. I assumed this was a concession to the logistics of performing as a live band, than being a strictly recording project. I was always sort of “meh” about them, because the acoustic parts where a defining characteristic of this band for me. Yet here, the symphonic synth strings really tied everything together, and is the lightning rod that channels the spark that truly brings Family Tomb to life.

I’m assuming the drums are programmed, given the bedroom black metal nature of the recording of Family Tomb.  In light of this, the drums sounds alive and responsive. The patterns are perfectly integrated into the compositions, and the triggered samples sound real as shit.

I felt like with Family Tomb, Rory really got in touch with what compelled him to play black metal in the first place; which at times I felt was missing from the Shroud albums done with a complete band. Not to say that albums like Pine, or  Tied to a Dying Animal  weren’t great albums, because they are, and if you haven’t heard them, do so. But there’s a minor paradigm shift that happens when you hash out songs in a band room situation that is quite different from being a sole composer. I always had more of an emotional connection to SOD when Rory wrote in that format.

Family Tomb
really brought me back in time to what sparked my initial love of the genre back in the mid 90s; and I would definitely consider it a worthy last caress from this band.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Timothy D White
July 14th, 2015

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