Well, there goes the fucking neighborhood…
Despond delivers a brand of music that’s entirely capable of lowering a gargantuan boot-heel directly to the throat of the fresh summer months. SNAP!! Gone are the lively bbq’s, the lazy afternoons plucking animal shapes from billowy clouds, the warm evenings whiled away amidst friends and spirits — all swallowed within a spoiling cloud of misery spanning 67 tormented minutes.
For the unaware, Nashville, Tennessee’s Loss is exactly the sort of band you’d least expect to bubble up from our beloved Volunteer State. I first stumbled across them back in 2004 when I blindly picked up the Life without Hope…Death without Reason demo in a Bay Area record store. At the time, based purely on the album artwork and starkly dramatic song titles, I figured I was signing up for a dose of trashcan depressive black metal akin to Xasthur or Abyssic Hate. But Loss plays a brand of crawling down-tempo funeral doom that’s so defeating and replete, it even manages the extra mile of plucking the “fun” from “funeral” and forcing it to hang itself. This, ladies and gents, is metal’s first Eral Doom record.
No, no, that’s not entirely true. While Despond certainly lives up to its title, one of the most interesting things about the record is the fact that, despite its obviously miserable stance from top-to-bottom, I never feel terrible after listening to it. In fact, quite the opposite. This reversal can be attributed to a number of things that I’ll attempt to touch on, but I mostly believe it’s indicative of a group of individuals so in touch with the solitary and anguished emotion that their musical representation of that mental state becomes thoroughly cathartic and surprisingly soothing. So, to simply call Despond “depressing” is a huge oversimplification of what’s going on beneath its dismal exterior. This record is…therapy; these tunes help shoulder the burden of despair and allow the listener to drift with a strange sense of relief during its hour+ stretch.
Another key to the album’s soothing nature is the fact that Loss approaches the funeral style from a wealth of different angles, some of which include some fairly un-extreme elements. The main funeral tenets remain fully present and accounted for — the deliberately dragging pace and suitably glottal grumbling — but the band is unafraid to temper the malaise with a lightness that’s unexpectedly warm and absolving. The gentle, near-jazz-like meandering that eventually stretches into proggy riffs at the heart of “Open Veins to a Curtain Closed”, for example. Or the way the band manages to fine-tune the utterly disheartened way the original version of “Cut Up, Depressed and Alone” was delivered (on the Life without Hope…Death without Reason demo) to incorporate a lighter, lifting atmosphere akin to what Warning/40 Watt Sun achieves. It’s exactly these elements that help push Despond beyond “bleak” to a level that’s oddly sympathetic and therefore more approachable compared to the typical funeral doom record.
This isn’t to say Despond is lacking the killing blow, however. The goal is balance, so any smoothness attained — particularly by the album’s first two lengthy tunes — is suitably offset by a near immeasurable amount of grief-stricken riffs and moments of immense heft. Both “An Ill Body Seats My Sinking Sight” and “Shallow Pulse” emphasize a 200-ton hammer-blow akin to The Call of the Wretched Sea, but soften the concussion with some of the album’s most mournful riffs: the 1:53 mark of “An Ill Body…”, for example. Or the fret-work that fires up at the 48-second mark of “Shallow Pulse” — just sick, sick, sick.
The record also employs multiple vocal angles to further spice the pot and give a bit of a respite from the admittedly one-dimensional glottal-growl vocal style that dominates the spotlight. Co-guitarist Tim Lewis contributes some sparse clean vocals throughout and adds a very smooth monk-like chant to “Conceptual Funeralism…”, and Brett Campbell of Pallbearer (responsible for last year’s most promising doom demo) pushes one of the album’s most gut-wrenching tunes, “Silent and Completely Overcome”, right-the-fuck over a brutally tragic edge.
And to make an already highly lauded album even more charming, the three renovated tunes from previous releases flow seamlessly alongside the three new cuts with the help of four interludes composed separately by each member of the band. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Meacham’s album intro is the quickest and starkest, but the dark ambient “Deprived of the Void” (drummer Jay LaMaire), the piano-driven and utterly bereft “Despond” (bassist John Anderson), and the fittingly blighted album closer “The Irreparable Act” (guitarist Tim Lewis) are not only integral to pushing Despond‘s overall mood, they also provide a admirable peek into the unique personalities making up this great band.
Ultimately, I’m certain I could have summed up Despond in far fewer words, and with less of a gilded tongue. But music this bleak yet oddly indulging justifies expounding that goes well-beyond “yep, it’s amazing; buy or die.” I suppose the combination of my verbosity and this album’s expanse means neither of us are particularly well-suited for short attention spans. And maybe that should be a final indicator of whether or not you should immediately pick up Despond: If you’re still reading these words, make that move towards your wallet. This is more than just upper crust funeral doom, it’s six years of laboring through grueling emotion; six years of consuming, digesting and assimilating a wide palate of grim music; and six years of fine-tuning a sound that not only perfectly embodies “bleak,” but also provides a soothing touch to a despair-burdened mind. Put simply, Despond is just beautiful music.