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Shape Of Despair

arctic (ark-tk, r t k) adj. Extremely cold; frigid. Finland's Shape Of Despair came together in the winter of 1995 after founding members T.U. and J.S.' death metal band dissolved. The first sounds from the Shape Of Despair camp came in the form of Raven, a band of friends writing music under the doom metal banner. Two years passed and in 1997 Raven's musical style started to develop further, replacing doom metal conventions with desperate, beautiful, synth-based movements to create a slow-moving tapestry of boreal music. In January 1998, the band entered Arkki Studio to record their debut demo. The demo was strictly for the band to hone their skills and get a sense of how to operate in a studio setting. Around the same time, female singer N.S. was added to the line-up, her vocals creating an angelic veneer over the band's dismal orchestrated flow.

Realizing Raven wasn't appropriate for their cause, the band effectively changed their name to Shape Of Despair in September 1998. Under Shape Of Despair, a promotional album was recorded with Thy Serpent vocalist Azhemin. The album sold well and eventually reached Spikefarm Records founder Sami Tenetz (also in Thy Serpent), who proceeded to sign Shape Of Despair on the merits of the music. The line-up at that time was: J.S. (guitars, drum programming, synth), T.U. (bass), N.S. (female vocals) and Azhemin (vocals). The final line-up for the band didn't occur until former Raven drummer T.M. replaced Azhemin on vocals and drummer S.R. joined the band on a full-time basis. Shape Of Despair also recruited flautist J.V. into the band as an atmosphere generator.

With a solidified line-up, Shape Of Despair headed to Hellhole Studios with Antti Lindell and Kaide Hinkalle producing. The end result was the band's debut full-length Shades of..., a suffocating display of doom metal mastery, where Shape Of Despair's music unfurled like massive sheets of February snow. Shades of... was well-received within the doom metal scene and continues to be heralded as a genre landmark along with Disembowelment and Thergothon. However, all wasn't well with vocalist T.M. who decided to leave Shape Of Despair and the music industry for a distanced life in Lapland in northern Finland. T.M.'s departure was a major blow to Shape Of Despair. After writing the majority of the band's second album, guitarist J.S. found a vocalist in Amorphis' Pasi Koskinen, who was a fan of the Shades of... album. Now that a vocalist was in place, J.S. relieved flautist J.V. and added violinist Toni Raehalme.

Shape Of Despair promptly headed back to Hellhole Studios to record Angels of Distress. Unlike Shades of..., Angels of Distress is heavier and musically doesn't follow the long, single-riff style of the debut. Yet, Angels of Distress is just as engaging. The album's funeral march captures winter in its purest form: frigid, dead and beautiful. Koskinen's vocals are forceful but have a discomforting whisper to them, the violin performance aids the guitar and keyboard melodies and the female vocals are frighteningly spectral. It takes the band's sound into new realms of depression offering more variety in music instead of the transcendental, introverted flow of the first album. The all-encompassing rumble of the guitars has given way to a more polished sound, leaving space for the vocals and synthesizers to expand the bleak atmospheres Shape of Despair weaves. Angels of Distress is cold and punishing just like the Finnish winter.