Contagion of Despair, the first full length from the UK’s Self Hypnosis, is a huge, sprawling album in more ways than one. Most obviously, it pushes 80 minutes in length, which would seem very long for any band that doesn’t include Greg Chandler, who is used to releasing Esoteric albums that dwarf that runtime. More importantly, however, is how it runs a pretty big gamut of slow styles, always with great purpose and without ever feeling even the tiniest bit disjointed.
While Chandler’s fingerprints are all over the record ‒ particularly his shimmering, galaxy-wide production style ‒ main man credits belong to Kris Clayton, who has spent time with Chandler in Esoteric when he isn’t working on his main act Camel of Doom. Clayton started by working on another Camel of Doom album before realizing he was headed in another direction entirely. A more accurate assessment might be to say that he found several directions.
Just opener “Contagion” channels plenty of industrial pulses, some drifty, wah-y psychedelic doom, and even the ritualistic onslaught of Neurosis. The latter comes across strongest in call-and-answer vocal deliveries, which are delightfully reminiscent of the way Neurosis used to trade off the screams of Steve Von Till or Scott Kelly with the deeper bellows of Dave Edwardson. It’s a lot of monolithic riffs, tempo changes, and somehow menacing desperation spread over nearly 14 minutes (making it only the fourth longest song on the record).
“Omission” does much of the same for a while, only adding in a bit more synth to give the slightest of gothic touches to the industrialized doom sound (imagine Shape of Despair instead of Esoteric mixed with Godflesh here). But after several minutes, it loses all heft and opens the album up into an initially minimal soundscape of slowly ascending keys. Soon a softly-strummed acoustic guitar joins, then the drums, then a bit more volume in all parts, and then finally a bit of heft. It’s both gripping and utterly relaxing, and creates a feel not unfamiliar to fans of such deliberate-by-design albums as In the Woods’ classic Omnio.
Things only keep expanding from there. “Divided” adds a lot of piano, some piercing, minimal leads, and even a butt-moving shuffle to the heavy mix, but again finds its purest gold in the quieter moments (this time with the subtlest of folk vibes in a delicate key melody) before heading off into proggier terrain. Closer “Succumbed,” meanwhile, embraces true funeral doom with its barren atmosphere and sparse guitars, but also has the album’s most stunning leads and eventually morphs back into a harrowing industrialized doom. Even the shorter, palate cleanser-type numbers cross a lot of ground, which only amplifies how intense this record gets at its heaviest.
To repeat: Contagion of Despair is a huge, sprawling record. It’s a whole lot of a whole lot, you might say, and some folks might not have the patience for this type of slow-and-low. But never once did the album even begin to feel like its colossal runtime; it moves slow, sure, but goes by quickly in a way. Anyone that keeps their ears to the band members’ other acts will find oodles to love, but Self Hypnosis brings plenty to love for just about anyone into extreme slow metal. A constantly engaging and almost always wickedly cool record, this one.