In the throes of the deepest, most inconsolable sadness even the shrieking snake-infested head of medusa holds some beauteous shape. Luxuriously darting curls, neatly pursed and jewel-scaled lips surrounding a blender of poison spattering fangs arranged in nigh crystalline symmetry… all if it deserving of pillow and pedestal once shattered from thy concrete station and set as pristine visage in the memory of a dust coughing fool. Strength beyond dire experience foresees such ugliness and pain, shambling away while silently hoping for a whiff of the inhumane stench of monstrosities past. Wallow as a sullen bard, then, growling in the corner of a dark room with a bent lute for the sake of vulnerabilities lost and sorrow’s mutation of memories past. The plucked and jangling roar of Lexington, Kentucky death/doom metal band Rotting Kingdom does so while acknowledging the beauty of those evil creatures that’d strike when a man’s arms are their most wide open, ‘A Deeper Shade of Sorrow’ gnashes back in reflection with alternating bouts of rage, yearning and lament. Very much in the tradition of classic United States death/doom of the early 90’s, cognizant of British melodic death/doom but not entirely overwhelmed by the melodramatic ‘gothic’ affect, Rotting Kingdom‘s debut is yet the traumatized warrior who’d still not shed their cracked armor.
Though this quintet have only been around for a handful of years their greater membership have been active in the Lexington metal biosphere for the last couple of decades, featuring several members of thrashing death-crust band Tombstalker as well as members of underrated sludge band Nest and black metal act Arktos. Beyond a basal shared interest in classic extreme metal forms their related projects don’t particularly bleed into Rotting Kingdom, who offer a snapshot of where death/doom metal was just beyond the mind-warping release of Paradise Lost‘s ‘Gothic’. Though many of their nearby British peers ran with that newly melodic, gothic metal sound it’d leak across the United States death metal underground like a slow infection or, at least a bit slower than it did in Scandinavia. I’d place the general verve of Rotting Kingdom‘s sound during that period of transition where demo tape precursors for groups like Evoken, Novembers Doom, and Morgion were pushing past their hardest stuff towards more atmospheric and melodic ideas. As attuned to the melodic future as Thorns of the Carrion but still has heavy as Ceremonium or Dusk, ‘A Deeper Shade of Sorrow’ finds peer in today’s teeming retro-minded death metal palaces alongside modern groups like Ossuarium, Indesinence, and perhaps Pulchra Morte as each works within their own sphere of death/doom influences, so does Rotting Kingdom.
There was some strong implication that these guys were ready for their debut back in 2017 when they released their already well-formed and professional self-titled EP (‘Rotting Kingdom‘, 2017) independently. By the time it’d hit my ears it was way late in the trenches of 2018 and I’d figured the band were at least above average, something along the lines of Ophis or Mourning Beloveth where the melodic side of their death/doom was only engaged about a third of the time within some pretty hefty 8-9 minute songs. I haven’t mentioned all of these fantastic bands to illustrate how common Rotting Kingdom‘s style is but rather how well they fit into a style of music that I am a huge fan of, the sort of death/doom that never goes full ‘goth’ but finds a way to bring emotion to their music nonetheless. The evolution is in the attention to details when considering the band’s debut EP and this full-length; Sure, they are still primarily writing eight minute songs, each its own dramatic aria to strife and the bloodied warfare of living in disaffected times but, they’ve slashed the snakes from the head, cutting away most of the dirge-like sensation of their debut while sticking to a mix of primal death metal gusts and powerful melodic-but-muscular death/doom.
The frickin’ thing sounds great too, between Sneak Attack Studios capture and Subterranean Watchtower Studios render, each doing a fine job of emphasizing both the beauty in motion and the beast resultant. Despite this, when I’d first flipped this record on it’d felt poorly arranged in terms of the tracklist… Unfortunately each song had been given the wrong title and track number. Of course, why would a 40 minute record have three eight minute songs back to back? It didn’t, it doesn’t, and this was something I’d realize a few listens into ‘A Deeper Shade of Sorrow’ that’d really shit all over its chance for a first impression. I only mention this as a small gripe that happens frequently; It doesn’t affect the album’s recommendation or my final impressions but, when dealing with digital files they must be labeled properly. The actual correct tracklist is arranged beautifully, separated into two distinct sides by pairs of ~8 minute songs with an atmospheric interlude to end Side A and a ripping death metal song to start Side B. ‘A Deeper Shade of Sorrow’ is linear in this sense, best enjoyed from start to finish for effect. The pairing of “Sculpted into Life by the Hand of Death” and major-standout “Barren Harvest” show a grand measure of growth in terms of effective guitar leads, a more readily aggressive pace, and deeply resonant death metal growls which’d carry this first half of the record into infamy for my own taste. A solid start.
“Absolute Ruin” reminded me of hitting Side B on ‘As The Flower Withers’ and getting an unexpected shot of heavier death metal. Although I wouldn’t say Rotting Kingdom has an exact semblance of early My Dying Bride‘s sound there is surely some influence there in terms of how they get from point A to point B within their extended arrangements. The bigger picture shows at least some of the same dynamic in action and this becomes more evident as the album closes with two of its biggest, most imposing pieces where ‘A Deeper Shade of Sorrow’ is most clearly the work of a melodic death/doom metal band. The only point of criticism I could offer is that “The Antechambers of Eternity” and “Sculpted into Life by the Hand of Death” are very similar songs in terms of arrangement, with guitar techniques/effects that occasionally feel redundant. I saw this as a missed opportunity to toy with textures and different sounds a bit more; On that same note the album as a whole pushes the envelope otherwise, leaning into somewhat varied melodic ideas. It isn’t such an issue in the moment, though, and I’d never felt like the full listen was impeded by the familiarity of certain parts. It is easy to get lost in the gorgeous details of an album like this but Rotting Kingdom provide enough of a burly death metal sledge throughout ‘A Deeper Shade of Sorrow’ to impress. It is a fine debut and a record I’d heartily recommend to death/doom metal fans who lean towards classic melodic death/doom with little patience for clean vocals, violins and various superfluous dressings. Moderately high recommendation.
Moderately high recommendation. 3.75/5.0
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