Wisconsin’s Shroud of Despondency continues to paint in the gray colors of despair with its newest release Pine. Layered with dark and moody ambiance, Pine sees the band delve deeper into the crevasses of bleakness than ever before. While poet Dylan Thomas once raged against the dying of the light, Shroud of Despondency seeks to blot out its very existence. Founder and guitarist Rory Heikkila took time out to give us his take on each of the 11 tracks on Pine.
1. Wanderlust (Winged See in the Breeze) – There are actually four “Wanderlust” intros on the album. I knew that I wanted the template for the album to be both typical Shroud and something a bit different. It’s typical Shroud in that there are instrumental intros scattered throughout the album but it’s not typical because these intros are not composed on the acoustic guitar. “Wanderlust” is actually one 15 minute synth piece that Jon (guitars) wrote on his own and presented to the band. I knew right away that I was going to cut it up and use it to develop the album conceptually. The atmosphere as he recorded it was very appropriate. No one really said a word and we just kind of sat in a dimly lit room and listened as he played until he felt like being done. He said the 15 minutes he played for felt like less than five. About halfway through I picked up the Balalaika, a Russian instrument the owner of Folkpocalpyse studios picked up on a whim, and the melody that is contained throughout was basically the first thing I played on it. I’d never played the instrument before in my life but found a melody to go along with Jon’s synth immediately. So I went out into the hallway of the warehouse and laid down a track of the Balalaika when he was done. The only other instrument on the these interludes is the Cello and I had never played the Cello in my life except earlier in the same day we recorded it. I wanted it to sound anxious yet beautiful, uneasy yet purposeful. Philosophically it basically represents the uneasiness that leads to self discovery and the awkward frettings and such really work to the advantage of the track in my opinion. The sample from “Taxi Driver” of “All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” works perfectly. The entire “Wanderlust” composition, uncut, along with another synth piece Jon wrote and recorded can be found on the bonus disc for “Pine.”
2. Overshadow- We had a lot of discussion as to which one of the metal songs should start after the “Wanderlust” intro and ultimately decided on this one because it goes right for the throat. The lyrics are also basically an extension of the sentiment brought about in the Taxi Driver sample that precedes it so it worked out well. They deal with faithlessness and its necessity in the cycles of human self defeat/growth. Musically this song also shows that we are not going to limit ourselves to “black metal” music. It goes from pretty standard Scandinavian black metal sounding riffs to very heavy American sludge riffs in the blink of an eye and ends with a section of lyrics that repeat “retreat, descent, withdraw and bury humanity” over and over again over a musical section very in line with our worship of “Through Silver and Blood” era Neurosis.
3. New Trees- This song was the first one we wrote for the album and the first we began playing out, months before anything else was written. I was listening to a lot of Inquisition at the time I wrote it and I think it shows in the Chorus of the song as well as the constant mindfucking harmonics. One of my favorite songs, lyrically and musically, that I’ve ever written. The version we originally demoed with our previous singer had some clean vocals in it, but as we progressed forward with our new singer I was clear that these had to go. The lyrics were dirty and full of contempt and the vocals needed to reflect that. So, even though some friends warned me that it would take away from the hook of the song, the decision was made to “keep it harsh.” Lyrically its very influenced, as are a lot of the lyrics on the album, by “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche. In fact I think the phrase “New trees for the first bolt of lightning” may have been out right stolen from this masterpiece of literature. It’s about rebirth and how everything natural, and therefore beautiful, will continue to grow around our succession of individual deaths.
4. Wanderlust (Moist Soil)- Here a sample is put over Jon’s synth piece. It’s of a man reading a section called “The Soothsayer” from “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” This section is also used in the lyrics of the next song.
5. The Great Sadness Descends- We worked on this song in many different forms. At first it was even part of what eventually became “Half Open Gates” but ultimately we decided to keep it as its own segment. The doomiest song on the album, with the note progressions not really changing throughout the entire 6 minutes, with very simple lyrics, again, taken from “The Soothsayer” in Zarathustra. “All is empty. All is alike. All hath been. The great sadness descends” Although Nietzsche refutes this feeling, and it’s not one I accept myself, that all is empty, it’s definitely a notion that needed to be put forward for this song/album. It’s definitely a driving force of my need to create in general. I was pretty sure at first that I wanted the only acoustic moment on the album to be the last song, “The Unchaining of an Animal”, but ultimately could not resist the idea of putting acoustic guitars over the riff (Jon calls it the Trouble riff because of the harmony) in typical Shroud of Despondency fashion. I had already put the synths and clean guitar over the heaviest part of the song, and I’m really glad I decided to do some acoustic work on it as I greatly enjoy the outcome. Last thing we tracked was some ideas Jon had for some real Immolation inspired kind of bending notes over the lyrics and the guitar solo that continues into the acoustic guitars. Again, really glad we decided to add this as it breathes life into the song.
6. Half Open Gates- This might be the song I am most proud of on the album. It’s definitely the most epic. It’s also unique for the album because we wrote it as a unit. Most of the album was written with Jeremiah and I presenting a drum/guitar skeleton to Jon and Tyler and they came up with their own parts, but “Half Open Gates” we wrote together, and we were pretty meticulous about its arrangement. We wanted it to be epic and as a result the second half of the song is almost completely without vocals. The song goes from black metal riffs to kind of an odd section involving sections we called “the mastodon” riff and “the carcass riff” and right back to the black metal section before getting to the outro piece. I’ve always been into early Swedish melodic death metal and I think it definitely shows in the outro of this song, although not entirely a rip off. It sounds very Celtic and I always thought I might have been influenced by various Tanner Anderson (Obsequiae) riffs. He’s a modern underground artist I’ve always had great respect for. Anyway, lyrically its again standard fair. I’m pretty sure the “I can see the half open gates where I know the gravedigger waits” was lifted from Zarathustra and the rest of the lyrics are about the journey to these “half open gates.” A person sick of his town, sick of his fellow countrymen, and sick of his own skin who decides to travel somewhere to be alone and die. I also knew right away I wanted violin in the midsection of this song and was very fortunate enough to be active with another project (The Terminal Orchestra) that happens to have one of the most gifted musicians I’ve ever encountered. Emily [Durkin] literally look a half hour to write and record her violin parts, with very little guidance from me, and it adds a very beautiful sense of “longing” to the song. We also recorded the violin in Upper Michigan, a place I was raised, and a place that very much embodies the journey in this song.
7. Wanderlust (Seedling)- This is the most dissonant sounding of the Wanderlust intros. It carries over from “Half Open Gates” with a sample of Emily’s violin part but is cut into with the original synth piece, and they are in completely different keys so it just makes the ugliness of the lyrics on the album felt. Another sample from Taxi Driver can also be found here.
8. Light Words, Dark Graves- This song was a song we wrote when our previous singer was in the band. We wrote it because we wanted a short song, something a bit easier to play live. Turns out we disavowed playing it live for a while because it’s a pretty difficult song to play. Really kinda hurts the hands. When we originally wrote the song it was called “Follow the Road of Light”, had lyrics written by our old singer, and was found on a cassette split we did for a brief tour with our friends in local band Orwell. Once we kicked our singer out I decided to rewrite the lyrics but kept the “Follow the Road of Light” line as I felt it could fit nicely with the albums themes. Its pretty much a continuation of “Half Open Gates” lyrically. About being fed up with human beings and their constant hypocritical, moral, clamoring and leaving to be on your own. I wanted a more grind, dare I say “punk”(a genre I’m not too fond of) approach to the verses in this song so I asked a friend of mine from local black metal band Subjugation to do some guest vocals. He was also singer for local grind legends Half Gorilla, and his approach was perfect in my opinion. He was in the studio for maybe about 5 minutes, vomited the lyrics and left. It was awesome. Jon has a pretty over the top lead section in this song. He used a wah wah pedal(a pedal I typically can’t stand. Unless your fucking Jimi Hendrix just give it up hippie!) and I think it adds to the chaos nicely. The solo section reminds me of something inspired by early Megadeth. This song ends with the first section of samples we took from a friend of mine who is a very interesting fellow. A psychedelic drug aficionado(something I neither endorse or condemn) who has traveled the world having psychedelic mind expansion excursions, he actually sent me hours of salvia trips he took in his home with a very inexperienced user. I’m sure if you ask the guy he had a great time, but from the samples I took, it sounds like a fucking awful time to me. Lots of groaning, spitting, babbling, and crying out. Totally appropriate going into the next song.
9. Nameless End- This song is ugly through and through and it’s another highlight for me. The first section repeats two very dissonant and nasty sounding black metal riffs before going into a very heavy thrasher of a riff. The thrash section was definitely highly influenced by Root, the most underrated and excellent band to ever (dis)grace the metal genre. Lyrically its about closing your eyes to accept life for what it is, both horrifyingly ugly and strangely beautiful. The image is of a person closing their eyes and climbing higher and higher only to have the shadows below grow larger. This person also looks down, naturally, upon human beings with contempt.
10. Wanderlust (Lightning Precedes Fire). Next to the first section of “Wanderlust” this is my favorite. I played some keys using the same Balalaika melody found throughout as well as a sample of some clapping that we pitch shifted down. It sounds both beautiful and humiliating. It winds down with some more samples of the psychedelic excursions, a sample of the man spitting can be heard right before the next song starts.
11. The Unchaining of an Animal- The only acoustic song on the album. This was highly influenced by Nick Cave in my opinion. But it’s not a typical Shroud acoustic song, it’s more in lines with “Sybil” from the “Dark Meditations in Monastic Seclusion” album. Might as well be a dark folk/indie song. A pretty standard vs chorus combo leads to the outro section, the final bit of music to be heard on the album. We toyed with the idea of adding bass and a guitar solo over the solo section but ultimately I wanted to keep a stripped down approach to let the lyrics shine a bit. Emily from The Terminal Orchestra once again plays a violin part that absolutely makes the song for me. Reminiscent of Dirty Three or something, it’s just beautiful and helps emotionally lift the song up, even though it’s totally a downtrodden song in spirit. I pitch shifted a choir of people to repeat the line, “I loved him but denied his intellect” over and over at the end.
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