Wisconsin's 'Shroud Of Despondency' have been pretty busy over the last two years. 'Pine' is their third independently released full length album and 2011 saw the release of both 'Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion' and 'Objective: Isolation', a collection of previously unreleased tracks. Impressive going by anyone's standards and with no compromise to quality either. The same thing goes for this latest offering, 'Pine'.
The band, currently made up made up of Rory Heikkila and Jon Liedtkeon on guitars, Tyler Okrzesikon on bass and Ron Blembergon on vocals, have been active with a few changes in the line up since 1999. In total the band has released four full lengths and seven demos/split releases.
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Black Metal with a folk influence, they are a little reminiscent of Agalloch but darker, more reflective and brooding. Their lyrics are powerful and thought provoking in content and reflect thriving nature contrasted with the coldness of death. I love new vocalist Ron Blemberg's harsh vocal style, which adds a lot of dark emotion and a bleak atmosphere to the tracks.
The album, a conceptual journey made up of eleven tracks in total, four of which are instrumental and serve to both tie the album together and also break up the heavier tracks. 'Wanderlust (Winged Seed In The Breeze)', the first instrumental and opening track sets the brooding mood with its combination of subtle, haunting strings, gentle breeze and crackling leaves.
The other three, 'Wanderlust (Moist Soil)', 'Wanderlust (Seedling)' and 'Wanderlust (Lightning Precedes Fire)' are of a similar nature, the same haunting strings with spoken vocal overlay or piano and other atmospheric effects to build up layers, giving an excellent depth of sound.
I don't have a favourite track as they are all excellent, from the subtle, interlude like instrumentals to the heavier, blacker more extreme tracks such as the classic styled Black Metal 'Half Open Gates' and 'Nameless End' or the gloom laden 'The Great Sadness Descends' with it's simple yet powerful lyrics;
"All is empty
All is alike
All hath been
The great sadness descends"
The final track is one to raise a smile. 'The Unchaining Of An Animal' is an acoustic, folky number which has a relatively upbeat feel to it in the beginning, until you listen to the lyrics which are a complete contradiction with their bleak misanthropic outlook. It eventually spirals in to full blown melancholy and is pure genius!!
A thought provoking and excellent album indeed, guaranteed to keep your mind occupied throughout. Underground Metal at its best.
Recorded at Folkpocalypse studios in Milwaukee, 'Pine' is available to buy via bandcamp.com, along with their previous two releases, as a digital album or CD.