A collected cosmogony of debilitating forces press down upon the uneven skull of the piteous afflicted, hard enough that their eyesight may blur into a tunnel-envisioned hole that’d place them beneath humanity. This abyssal depth and the spacious loneliness that it offers is both a blessing upon the over-sensitized mind caught up in a furor of its own consideration, a point of constant drowning for those who’d regularly tumble off either side of a thin and slippery fence of sanity. There is an even finer line between the peace that an over-stimulated mind requires and the very strings of sorrow that characterizes much of Finnish rock and metal history; Much of this line blurs and becomes jagged as the tropes of ‘atmospheric’ and post-music techniques generate faceless beauty, shimmering and lifeless pools of cheap soundtrack fare with ever-growing casual fandom. Truly felt sorrow becomes difficult to discern (or believe) as often as it is made a commodity, a signaled trait for consumption, that rarely bleeds into (notable) funeral doom metal. Jyväskylä, Finland based funeral doom metal artist Juho Huuskola is perhaps always right on the edge of tasteful post-metal influenced melodic funeral doom metal and has been since 2006, when he’d formed Shades of Deep Water. This, his second full-length under the Shades of Deep Water name, is yet another mile-marker towards the altar, a sacrifice of the self that finds the project drifting from the dryly melodic funeral death/doom of the past and towards avenues anointed with post-black metal without losing sight of the classics of Finnish melodic funeral doom.
Detailed yet sparse enough to satiate the well indoctrinated, ‘Death’s Threshold’ is even more of a dirge than thought possible whilst now standing in not-so-recent glow of the previous record ‘Waterways’ (2013); There rests an album that’d culminate the hardest work of J.H. in creating a traditional feeling between the experimentation of three demos and an EP between 2006 and 2012, by then the funeral death/doom metal underground surely knew Shades of Deep Water but it was the leap between ‘Constant Pressure’ (2012) EP and that debut full-length that’d connect most sincerely at the time. But that is all that ‘Waterways’ was, a nicely melodic dry run that introduced the capable sound design and melodic strengths of J.H.‘s vision without yet transcending active peers at the time. Instinct might have you pointing towards Shape of Despair or Funeral at first glance but the death metal aspects of ‘Death’s Threshold’ aren’t so pronounced and there are no real flourishes by way of keyboard as the album focuses on an almost dark metal-esque lead style for interest. The effect is closer to Ea, ‘Lead and Aether’-era Skepticism, or a more melodic/faster paced band like Helllight. For lack of easy comparisons Shades of Deep Water excel amidst any project I’ve named simply for their compelling use of lead guitars as the main narrative and emotive device on this fairly succinct (~40 minutes) melodic funeral doom record.
When putting on ‘Death’s Threshold’ the first time all impressions were good, starting with a beautiful painting from Sylvain Bellemare who I’d known from classic Oppressor and Amorphis artworks, the piece sets the mood beautifully and jumps off the gloss of the sleeve with warming contrast. The pieces fell into place here where the mood is sorrowful and the melody is atypical in that it is spread across a theme that carries through the four parts of ‘Death’s Threshold’ with accompaniment by way of solemn stringed instrument or keyboard. Because this lead instrumentation creates such a point of focus as it trades between guitars, strings, and vocals the album becomes a series of long-arcing harmonized moments that stretch grandly across what is essentially one large song. Those leads never allow Shades of Deep Water to idle as the fringe-settled species of funeral doom metal band they resemble might. Certain tonal choices still evoke classic funeral doom but overall ‘Death’s Threshold’ feels like a unique take on the melodic death/doom genre that never wastes a second of the listeners time. Yet on a personal level, it left me without any sympathetic pangs nor spiraling towards sorrow. Though it might seem ill-advised to desire resonant sadness, there is some part of me that is so addicted to feeling the depression inherent to funeral doom and death/doom, especially the melodic variants who often stumble upon earworming pieces. I’d been left with my own cretinous state of apathy and that is a shame but, perhaps not Shades of Deep Water‘s fault.
The longer it’d drone around me and chip away at my tired mind the sooner I would enjoy ‘Death’s Threshold’. The pleasant rhythmic dirges that characterize this full-length do offer a slow-motioned gateway to ecstatic sadness that is without its ups and downs, instead offering a cruel-but-steady suffocation into sleep for the unknowing listener. If you, like I, come to Shades of Deep Water expecting some greater juxtaposition of growling death and downward-flowing extreme doom metal you won’t really start to feel that full weight until the fourth part that ends the album. There my eyes would eventually blur and my head sag towards my shoulders while some uncontrollable chemistry within my brain shelved any sun-forced electricity from already half-functioning dopamine receptors. Still, even in the midst of collapsing under the weight of whatever chronic imbalancing act I could muster there is an inspirational lightness in the progressions that define the whole of ‘Death’s Threshold’, probably the only point of comparison with say, Mournful Congregation that I’d muster.
I never fully ‘felt’ this record in that sense it inspires the same way Lycus might rather than devastate the will; I did, however, enjoy ‘Death’s Threshold’ immensely as a concept and a strong melodic thread that carries beautifully through the full ~40 minute run. It is an unexpectedly professional undertaking for an otherwise steadfastly underground DIY (and still atypical) project. Though I yearn for the apotheosis this release’d promised me at first sight there is no hesitation in giving a reasonably high recommendation for listening to it, especially because its succinct nature allows for a full listen in one sitting. There is no way you could preview this album and understand it so give it time to breathe, even three or four full listens only just begins to release its greater arc.
Foam atop a writhing river. 3.75/5.0
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