The Loss of Beauty by Shores of NullRelease date: March 24, 2023
Label: Spikerot Records
When Rome’s Shores of Null announced a new album would be forthcoming in 2023, I was excited. I rated 2020’s Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying) extremely highly, with the nearly forty-minute single track being a highlight of that year’s releases – a year that felt one of the strongest in recent memory for melodic doom. Imagine the sudden vertiginous rise in expectations when it was revealed that this new LP – The Loss of Beauty – was recorded concurrently with that recent peak in the band’s discography.
On their fourth full-length the quintet return to their more traditional format of album presentation; namely shorter tracks and a focus on locked-in grooving doom riffs and the stark contrast of clean and growling vocals, as opposed to the more drawn-out melancholy of the previous opus that I hold in such high regard. Across ten songs, excluding ‘Transitory’, an instrumental intro, Shores of Null deliver an emotive new instalment of their blackened melodic doom metal.
The Loss of Beauty is, however, a frustrating listen. While on it gets the head occasionally nodding and the odd piercing melody makes one stop to appreciate the vocal talent on display. The performances are purposeful, and the compositions are well-constructed and instrumentally adept. However, they often fail to be stirring, surprising or memorable. During listening sessions of the album, I found myself having to focus to keep my mind on what was transpiring… If I didn’t, my mind often was left to wander.
This newest record from one of Italy’s finest melodic doom bands starts strongly, with the first track proper, ‘Destination Woe’ being a miserable but moving paean to the moods that drag us downward. The guitar work is luscious yet still heavy, while the rhythm section drives the track forward with a pace many doom bands, melodic or not, might find too much of a gallop for their wistful, reverie predispositions and tastes.
However, from here on in, we start to encounter issues. The vocals, while they remain impressive throughout, also tend to sit on top of the instrumental mix in a very noticeable way. In many instances The Loss of Beauty feels like it has taken a very glossy pop or indie rock approach to production, which certainly allows every element of the record’s determinate parts to be crystal clear but doesn’t cohere together in the way previous LPs have managed to attain.
It’s not just production where the five-piece’s problems occur. After such a vast experiment and achievement as was so celebrated on Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying), the Italians seem to have not only settled back to their traditional set up, but – dare I say – regressed in terms of their ability to define a Shores of Null song. So many of the tracks on offer here are full of tropes the sub-genre knows all too well – and that devoted listeners will be incredibly accustomed to. For those looking for a comforting new addition to the canon, The Loss of Beauty, will be a pleasing listen; potentially even a lauded highlight of 2023. I’m not unaware that this is what many listeners look for – not only in melodic doom, but in their music listening overall, and I completely respect that.
However, for a doom fan looking for something that moves the movement forward, it’s hard to make the case that this LP fits the bill. From ‘Darkness Won’t Take Me’ to ‘Old Scars’, the compositions offer little in the way of genuine surprise. While the vocals are delivered with typical aplomb, the underlying lyrics – while seldom a highlight of this particular arena of doom – make for reading that feels, to me, like reading over the shoulder of a teenager who has perhaps been reading a little too much Keats and Dunbar for their own good.
The band do end the record on a high, much like they started, with ‘A New Death is Born’ closing the LP with a pummelling, oddly rousing finale. The CD (and steaming services) have two bonus tracks on offer: ‘Underwater Oddity’, which also failed to leave much of a mark, and the strange instrumental piece ‘Blazing Sunlight’ which feels like something that perhaps ought to have been the closing epilogue anyway.
The Loss of Beauty is an album that I really wanted to love. And, while I do largely enjoy the thing while it’s been played repeatedly during the writing of this review, it remains a record full of songs that refuse to stay in my memory only moments after the last notes fade out. It’s a metal album I would be happy to do some chores to while it’s on, or nod along to in a metal bar/club while at the bar or during a lull in conversation. However, it’s surely an album designed for deeper listening, with the explicit hope of that experience being that one is deeply moved, and in that endeavour, I must admit that Shores of Null’s newest effort left me rather unaffected.
This all said, there is a part of me that is convinced that if I saw this material performed live, it would be a different story. But, on this recorded capture of their material, I’m afraid I find myself somewhat melancholy for all the wrong reasons.