Eleven years is a long time, even in the excruciatingly incremental world of funeral doom, but Shape Of Despair can be immediately forgiven for their tardiness between albums because Monotony Fields is absolutely perfect.
The Finns’ first three albums were admirable, high-quality affairs, but nothing they have produced in the past could have prepared us for the staggering grandeur and crucifying emotional power that they sustain here, for 75 immersive minutes.
It begins with a slow-motion crescendo of shimmering synths, as Reaching The Innermost begins its stately glacial drift, underpinned by monumental chord changes that impact like the crash of black waves on Purgatory’s shore. As with all great expressions of mortal surrender, its sublime recurring melody aims straight for the heart, the sonic enormity of everything that surrounds it acting as an enveloping shield of numbness. Vocalist Henri Koivula’s reverberant growls add yet another layer to the overpowering melee: scabrous cries of powerless rage seeping through the cracks in humanity’s shared consciousness. The whole thing is simply overwhelming and, after 10 minutes and 33 seconds, it ends and the towering misery of the title track begins, sounding somehow even more distraught and yet, despite the impending abyss, also liberated and elevated to another plane. Walls of keyboards, beatific backing vocals and yet more gut-churning resonance from the guitars are woven together with wonderful skill and lightness of touch – the end result, a magnificently icy barrage of unstoppable, glistening fog that is as irresistible as it is terrifying. The remaining eight tracks are equally devastating, united by a common sonic approach but elegantly distinct in their precise evocations of sorrow. In Longing, a mere snippet at just under eight minutes, is the most overtly accessible thing here, but Shape Of Despair’s melodic sensibilities are so instinctive and emotionally charged that every last moment on Monotony Fields packs the same jarring, spectral punch. And should you make it that far, Written In My Scars is a majestic and deeply moving paean to futility’s toil that exposes the raw, beating heart that has enabled this band to reach such extraordinary heights. This is a flat-out masterpiece.