The second of two droning, funereal sludge metal albums writ and recorded cross-country within the captivity of anno MMXX via duo Hellish Form, ‘Remains‘ is the sound of its own walled-in season of spiteful resignation, an act of nemesis softened by the rotten mulch of greying Fall colors. An beauteous and atmospheric wilt compared to the harsh, mossy grave that were ‘MMXX‘ (2020) to be sure, though it likewise offers distraction from reality while insisting upon the listener sourcing their own resolution, if any. Riding upon a wave of triangular convergence between drone, sludge, and funeral doom aesthetics the pact that forms between this duo and the listener becomes an ascetic bond beyond catharses, a slow walk through Hell together that managed to be somewhat lovely if only for the screaming, thundering company kept.

Hellish Form came into being perhaps as an idea between two simpatico musicians circa 2019, one being Willow Ryan whom is best known for their work in Body Void and Jacob Lee (Graven Maul, Skull Incision), a fellow involved in various grindcore, death and sludge metal fusions over the last decade or so. During the COVID-19 induced quarantine Ryan and Lee were split between Vermont and California though this doesn’t seem to have hindered the result of months long collaboration between the artists resulting in the May-spawned aforementioned first album which was arguably an entirely different beast, resembling the funeral dirges of Moss and Aldebaran as often as they’d cued into drone/sludge mutation a la Khanate or the more abrasive side of Ehnahre. There was a gritty, unsure quality to that first album appropriate for its time, which is now traded for a more presently distraught or mournful sense of movement here on ‘Remains’. Less Samothrace and more Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean if each can be reduced to a single resonant mood within similarly slow motion abrasion, this lines up with a sort of post-metal shimmer and funeral doom’s horrified poetic sentience which curl together in generally sharp admixture along the way.

Written during extended and uncertain times in (relative) solitude via long-distant collaboration it would be fair to say that ‘Remains’ exists as a carefully co-developed expression of emotional outlet rather than a showing of bravado or performance. Well, beyond some of the lovelier melodic post-metal swells that ebb into the hopeful, and I’d say somewhat romantic, moods expressed. Most of the album does end up sounding like a funeral doom metal experiment gone right but with more direct interest in extreme sludge tonality, funeral doom metal movement, and the warbling sustain of drone rather than the slow-motion gothic metal that most (non-death metal) funeral doom actually amounts to. I’d say this album would’ve been a chore to sift through for this emotional resonance without the lyrics being provided, hashing out some influences and sub-genre qualifiers does little for this sort of experience and the words have more impact than the vocal performances, which are largely crone-like rasps. Oddly enough the synth/keyboard presence on the album does the most complete job of guiding the mood conveyed within lyrics on loss, distance, and a surreal set of remembrances for the dead or too distant. Ryan‘s blend of corporeal imagery with longing connection is a vital part of ‘Remains’ landing its mood, and I’d recommend having the lyrics in hand for the first few listens so that it doesn’t all land as punishment and sludge-fuzz’d pain. “Ache” is our first hint of glowing afterlife or, a light at the end of the tunnel and it seems to take some of the lessons in cadence and keys learned from covering The Cure‘s “The Funeral Party” prior (or in process), and I’d found this bled into the strong opening moments of “Shadows With Teeth”, the most powerfully affected piece here which should rope in funeral doom metal fans.

So much of ‘Remains’ as an experience involves hanging on the last moment and waiting for the next reveal, of which there are several that gird these songs as movements rather than ditties. I will say the more keyboards the better as “Another World” sends us off into the next world, these were the moments that felt the most original compared to the sludge fuzzed clobber of the more slow-motion riff oriented churn that provides the muscular weight of roughly forty percent of the full listen. The balance between forms works well for me in the sense that it creates an ideal sort of droning monotony but, not in the sense of a complaint rather a mood generation — A flattening and affecting droning soul that is oppressed by its own solitary dread yet strangely hopeful in several irregular bouts. As is, in the moment, and as a second step into curious pastures I’d say ‘Remains’ is impressive and resonant to a considerable degree, an emotional-yet-unreadable and reactive doom ritual from Hellish Form. My only gripe comes from a more analytical place, a need for variation within the vocal performances to match the dynamic of the mossy climb out of torpor the album represents.

Though I’d not likely have given as much thought to a sludge metal album these days otherwise, I do greatly appreciate this palpably “funeral sludge n’ drone”-fueled longing sensation that Hellish Form brings within the collective hollows of their sound. Easy to get lost within and leave on repeat but perhaps difficult to truly sink into mind per memorable pieces, it is an “in the moment” sort of record which I have enjoyed within every listen. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (77/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Translation Loss Records
RELEASE DATE:June 25th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Sludge/Doom Metal,
Funeral Doom Metal

Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.