Thou Shell of Death create funeral doom metal with what amounts to a lead keyboard layering sparkly and incongruously happy melodies over a background of churning doom-death riffing. Songs build slowly in circles, repeating two fundamental riffs with transitions to re-contextualize them before the cycle is entered again. Over this, shrouded vocals of alternating howls and dark death vocal chanting provide guidance and anchor rhythm which is divided between the slightly off-center keyboards and on-point guitars and drums.
Much like Winter, who similarly used slow guitars as a backdrop to keyboard and noise accompaniment, Thou Shell of Death depend on the contrast to give their work endurance. This serves as both strength and weakness in that it may create an intense layered atmosphere, but can also substitute for the “metal method” of interlocking riffs providing a shifting context like a villanelle or other poem form where repeated lines take on new meaning as the previous line changes the framing in which the new line will be heard. In particular, the risk is that vocals and keyboards will take over from the guitars which will entirely take a background role as happens several times on the two tracks that make up Grave Hill, a new 12″ from Thou Shell of Death. In each song, the journey it takes the listener on first descends through intense deepening and then contradicts itself, finding momentary light which is crushed, giving way to a greater light found in the new path adopted. While this occurs on a very small scale in these 17-minute tracks, the result is nonetheless a sense of descending into a cave and finding a new world that one feared to look at initially.
This 34-minute release takes the listener through a path of dark and morbid passages with the exuberant keyboards both providing contrast and becoming slowly absorbed so that they take on a morbid air. Fundamentally, however, this music debunks the illusion that funeral doom works well when finding despair; instead, what is found here is a type of melancholic wandering in the dark and threatening world of the ambiguous, with Thou Shell of Death like all metal bands finding beauty in the darkness and using it, re-interpreted in a new context, to instead inform our concept of beauty as relating to the structure of the journey and not the texture of the result. Its keyboards create an effect like that of 80s Goth where the “bittersweet” ambiguity of modern rock translates into an embrace of darkness through lightness toward the fear, delivering us into a new stygian world where possibilities exist despite society denying their presence.
Resembling a collision between space-ambient music, doom metal and black metal, Thou Shell of Death creates slow-paced doom metal with the atmosphere of black metal bands — a more melancholic, brooding and existentially nihilistic outlook — but like past doom metal greats Winter, the lead instrument here may well be the keyboards, which in reverb-heavy waves lace melody through crashing guitar chords which gives them both context and foreshadows development. The ethereal and spectral sound of the keyboards conveys simultaneously an otherworldly removal and a soaring sense of possibility, which temples the normal self-indulgence of doom metal into an exploration of wonder in the darkened halls of a fallen world.
Guitars on Sepulchral Silence intelligently vary texture in the background under the keyboards which are more clearly heard both through being louder in the mix and being a clearer sound, which makes their orientation as lead intelligence. The musical role of guitar in this context is to set a basic progression in the background which the keyboards riff against in order to produce a sense of convergence, as if actors were in harmony with their background and role rather than opposed. Often mid-paced, guitars use a variety of technique including fast downstroking and tremolo but just as often fall back to the Black Sabbath/Winter styled power chords played open, or strummed once and allowed to resonate. Behind them drums lag comfortably and minimally, removing what might have been a distraction to a role as timekeeper plus a sound of inexorable time that affirms emptiness. Each progression stands distinct and keyboards take advantage of this to set up a mood that, like ambient music even of the discotheque variety, resonates around the listener while vocals are demoted to speech filling in the gaps with a narrative to center the song. Over this, heavily reverbed vocals hang like shrouds and flags hanging torn above ruins, battered by the winds of history.
Avoiding the dual traps of becoming essentially slowed-down hard rock or slowed-down death metal, Thou Shell of Death renovates funeral doom music with a new variety of emotions and technique that avoids the pitfall of this music, which is that it is often tedious both from its slowness and the resulting relative invariance of its riff texture. While riffs are relatively few compared to death metal in these songs, as in black metal songs, each serves a purpose and riffs tend to change with lyrical progress, creating the sense of a morbid storybook tale narrated by a demon rather than a rock song over which someone is ad libbing Tolkien. From this basic approach, Sepulchral Silence makes a dense liquid atmosphere that provides all of the dread and despair of doom metal but with the adventurous spirit of black metal and the hope of discovery that pervades electronic music, creating a new voice for funeral doom.