Despite being one of the best bands in the funeral doom scene since their inception in 1998, shows from Shape of Despair are incredibly rare, so there ws a lot of excitement about their first ever UK show, with a big crowd coming to the Boston Arms Music Room in Kentish Town to witness their dark and mournful doom. Support came from Clouds, also making their UK debut, and post-black metal group Fen.
Due to the venue’s incredibly slow queuing system, I wasn’t able to make the beginning of Clouds’ set, which turned out to be a huge shame – their debut album Dolius may not have been dynamic enough for my tastes, finding it too brooding, but they proved to be a different monster live. They created a palpable melancholic atmosphere through their haunting instrumentals, with heart and soul visibly put into the equally brilliant vocal performance. The highlight was an airing of a new track from new album Departe, a brilliantly gloomy track leaving me with high hopes for the new album compared to Dolius.
Despite having played a lot of shows in the capital, this was my first time seeing post-black metal group Fen live, a band that initially wowed me their debut album, 2008’s The Malediction Fields, but never lived up to it for me on subsequent releases. Only a fool would underestimate the black metal aspects of their sound, with brilliant screamed vocals and keyboards providing a great atmosphere to the atmospheric, tremelo led black metal they weave. However their post-rock parts don’t seem to be interwoven very well with the black metal parts, they’re limp and uneventful, leading to a Jekyll and Hyde result with well written black metal mixed with tepid post-rock – not near the level of Ahamkara or Wolves in the Throne Room. The same happened live, their set unfortunately moving from enthralling to boring.
Clearly though it was Shape of Despair that the packed out crowd at the Boston Arms was there to see, their position as one of funeral doom’s best bands cemented with the release of last year’s Monotony Fields, the first album for over a decade, and with its melancholic, wintry and turgid feel, their best to date. With such hype behind them, there was no doubt they’d deliver a great set, and over their 75 minutes they brought their turgid death-doom to life with a relentless wall of sound. While the musicians brought forth a heavy oppressive atmosphere, the guttural vocals from Henri were so deep and brutal they seemed to come from the bowels of the Earth itself. On album they had more of a a very melancholic air, live they’re a much heavier prospect with their huge sound, but the lovely female vocals courtesy of Natalie, and the occasional violin added a beautiful edge to the monotonous heaviness (monotonous of course used here to describe their unrelenting heaviness rather than as a pejorative), adding depth to their music.
Shape of Despair showed exactly why the scene holds them in such high regard with a dark and turgid set, and those who missed out should be kicking themselves, but hopefully it doesn’t take another eighteen years before they return to darken our shores once more.