Talsur – Slough of Despond

One-man metal bands have traditionally been dominated by black metal acts. Superficially, this makes sense. Thematically, the hyper-isolated, frost-bitten anguish of black metal is probably best fostered in a singular, individualized setting. Further, the low-barrier recording requirements of tinny, high-treble bedroom black metal means more people can simply start projects on their own, no band-mates or professional sound set-up required. Of course, there are exceptions. But black metal’s icy grip on one-man metal has, at times, seemed so tight as to prevent other genres from getting in on the action. Thankfully, Talsur is here to bring doom metal into the one-man domain.

Talsur is a one-man doom project formed in late 2015 in Russia. Seemingly on a mission from the God of Riffs, he’s put out music at an impressively prolific rate: four full-lengths and two Eps in less than two years. And Talsur is not merely prolific. Each project released tackles a different subgenre of doom, ranging from atmospheric doom (Wings of Azreal), fuzzy stoner (Inanitas), to gothic/traditional (Offertorium). But perhaps the crown jewel in the band’s still-nascent career is January 2017’s funeral doom epic Slough of Despond.

Funeral doom is one of the more impenetrable subgenres of metal, even for doom fans. Glacially-slow tempos, marathon song lengths, and a general aesthetic that borders dangerously close to power-metal cheese are all genre hallmarks that can easily put listeners off. Yet, when done well, funeral doom can also produce some of the most resonate and emotionally engaging music metal has to offer. Talsur does funeral doom well.

Slough of Despond is an epic meditation on grief, loneliness, and, of course, despondency. As a funeral doom project, these themes aren’t particularly surprising. What is surprising, however, is how catchy it all is under Talsur’s guiding hand. Melody abounds throughout the entire record, even within the thunderous and heavy funeral doom framework.  A beautiful and haunting staccato piano line forms the backbone of “Seas of Doom” and the chorus on album opener-proper “The Ravensong” is a true earworm I’ve found myself humming for several days after first listen. Similarly, tuneful, Thin Lizzy-eque dual-guitar leads permeate several tracks, most notably “A Beauty of the Abyss” and “Daylight Fades.” Slough of Despond will never be mistaken for anything other than pure funeral doom, but the unexpected melody and sonic diversity infused into that structure is refreshing.

Fortunately, the album’s production maximizes the enjoyment of that soundscape. Talsur may be a one-man band, but the production employed on Slough is polar opposite from the low-fi, wall-of-sound swirl that characterizes a lot of one-man metal. Instead, a lush, finely-mixed range of sounds is on display: a crunchy, distorted low-end rhythm blends perfectly with higher range piano and guitar leads. The bass is thunderous and the vocals are front and center, perfectly situated just above the music for crystal clarity. Talsur seems to purposefully traffic in mystery, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the man behind the mask has his hands in other metal projects or at least has some professional production experience. Slough of Despond soars well above bedroom pro-tools material and, instead, offers a crisp, well-rounded levelling that evidences some expertise behind the boards.

Lyrically, this is pure “abandon all hope” stuff. As mentioned above, Slough of Despond is saturated in grief, loss, and seems to be a loose concept album revolving around the death of the narrator’s lover, nicknamed “Swan.” Each of the album’s six songs serve as a dirge to Swan’s memory and the crushing loneliness the protagonist feels in her absence. Paired with the delicate musical accompaniment, lines like “Loneliness, one word that drives insane . . . nobody hears, nobody cares” and “Now I’m in cold embraces of the speechless abyss . . . I’ve drown in slough of despond” create profoundly moving moments across the record. The album closer “Funeral Waltz” paints a scene that perfectly crystalizes the album’s themes: the narrator is gathered at his lover’s grave, dancing with her in his memories but ultimately realizing, “I am alone.” Very heavy stuff, to be sure, but it’s presented with such sincerity and paired so well with the ornate doom musical trappings that the album transcends the grief into something that is, if not triumphant, certainly cathartic and, ultimately, truly enjoyable.

As a music lover, there’s nothing more exciting that stumbling upon a project as well conceived and executed as Tulsar. This is obviously the passion project of a person with deep affection and appreciation for doom and, in a startlingly short time, Tulsar has created a body of work that both pays tribute to various subgenres of doom while also building upon and leaving a distinct fingerprint on each. There’s no reason to mince words: Slough of Despond is a funeral doom masterpiece that reverently stands on the shoulders of giants while blazing a modern, accessible, indeed, catchy path forward for the genre as a whole. Doom fans –  and fans of all metal –  should be excited to explore Tulsar’s entire back catalogue while eagerly awaiting what’s yet to come.

Slough of Despond is available now via Talsur’s bandcamp.