A combination of existential instability with personal pain finds startlingly adept expression on Remains, the new full-length album from the funeral doom — or funeral drone sludge, as they put it — duo Hellish Form, which is comprised of Willow Ryan and Jacob Lee, each of whom have been involved in other projects like the sludge metal outfit Body Void and the grindcore group Elder Devil, respectively. For Remains, Ryan handled guitars, synths, vocals, and lyrics, with Lee on guitars, bass, vocals, and mixing, according to the Bandcamp credits.
Below, check out a Q & A with Willow Ryan about Remains! First, a review:
The album proceeds slowly — carefully — as though sonically capturing an experience of struggling to function while weighed down by staggering, inward strain. That weight figures prominently in the record’s journey; it’s wildly heavy, with walloping blasts from feedback-laden guitars that suggest something like a pit of muck in the center of an isolated, forgotten forest, which somehow seems to maintain its own gravitational pull, dragging bystanders into the blinding depths. It’s pulverizing — yet also mesmerizing.
The heaviness isn’t where the album stops — Remains never seems forceful just for the sake of kicking up metaphorical dust and leaving it at that. The musical portrait of nearly all-consuming unrest that Hellish Form have crafted proves richly nuanced, depicting tense heaves that gradually evolve into something jarringly brighter, even if only relatively so. Interestingly, the lighter tones that eventually appear and the (comparatively) brisker place that the duo occasionally employ somehow seem even more devastating than the other, already crushing moments.
In this context, the slightly less overbearing components help humanize the album’s trek, providing space for the emotional impact zones of the record to expand. It’s not heaviness at a distance — like the depiction of an apparently solitary figure in a graveyard on the cover art, Remains operates essentially right in the middle of an expansive storm. The musical breadth is compelling, and as the monumental album rolls into closing track “Another World,” an air of finality appears, and with that, a slowly growing, enriching sense of security.
Although the torrential furor is inescapable within Remains, there’s an opportunity provided by the heavy yet contemplative music for a strangely peaceful sense of acceptance, like suddenly basking in inexplicable, ethereal light while still covered in dust from previous travails.
Overall, the sonic ideas providing the foundation for Remains are simply remarkably poignant, as the soul-wrenching rhythms leave indelible emotional impacts. Meanwhile, the music itself is also impressive. Even while sticking to a slow, melancholic pace, bursts of forceful, forward movement push the record along, and besides the guitar and bass elements, shimmering synths appear, adding entrancing emotional depth. “Ache” in particular relents a bit around the midpoint, leaving some of those synths on more prominent display. As that track concludes, majestically expansive guitars emerge, guiding the trek along.
Featured Image by Hellish Form
Remains by Hellish Form is available now via Translation Loss Records.
Listen to Remains below!
Check out the full Q & A with Willow Ryan below!
Beginnings of Hellish Form and Remains
Captured Howls: Hello, and thanks for your time! I know that Body Void and Keeper put out that great split record, so I imagine that y’all have been in touch for some time. Broadly, what would you say were some of the sparks (of any sort) that got Hellish Form going? What were some of the ideas that got you working on this collaboration?
Willow Ryan: Back in 2018 Jacob recorded one of my other bands called Atone when I lived in California. We talked about doing something then, but the opportunity didn’t arise until the pandemic when we both had more time on our hands. Basically, we just wanted to record really slow doom in the vein of Corrupted and Monarch with a focus on atmosphere. The release last year is a pretty good snapshot of that, but since then I think we realized there was a lot to build on sonically.
CH: The music that Hellish Form performs seems rather urgently forceful and emotively raw. Would you say that collaborating for this new record over such a long distance, without being in the same place, was difficult? Smooth? Some of both?
WR: It’s actually worked surprisingly well. We basically pass ideas back and forth online until we have a full song and then we record it. Mixing is probably the only difficult part because we’re not in the same room so minor changes can be a bit tedious to pass back and forth, but writing and recording is a pretty smooth process.
Putting the Pieces Together
CH: The synths, to me, at times suggest somewhat of a subtle gothic vibe, and the striking cover art certainly expands that idea. (And I noticed that y’all have released a cover of The Cure). Were you going for something like that? Something dramatically and forcefully overcast, in a sense?
WR: Definitely. The Cure and a lot of the ’80s 4AD stuff are a big influence for me. It’s a good place to look to find examples of blending guitars and synths using slow tempos. I think a lot of that stuff influenced funeral doom too, so it kind of comes with the territory.
CH: The riffing definitely seems at least a bit contemplatively drone-inclined. Overall, would you say that you sought to tie the tone of the instrumentation to the emotional themes that you were dealing with? How did that go?
WR: Yeah, I think the slow-paced, drawn out chords and melodies are just conducive to themes of death and loss. Adding in more major key synth stuff was a way to accentuate that and build some of those emotions into crescendos that we maybe wouldn’t be able to do with just guitars.
CH: I feel as though some of the broader communal trauma of living through the pandemic period might not be as widely understood out there as it ought to be. The lyrics on “Ache” seemed connected, of course, to the pandemic. Am I on the right track there? Would you say that you’ve worked through pandemic-related emotions on this record?
WR: We recorded the record in October last year so it was impossible to not write about it. I think all the songs are in some tangential way related to it. Mostly the immense loss and, as you said, trauma of it. I think those things are still ongoing, and as we in the US slowly see signs of the pandemic loosening its hold, we’ll be able to more clearly pick apart the emotions, because I really don’t think we’ve faced the last year and a half honestly and completely yet.
Moving Forward and Other Music
CH: So, the album definitely does not seem to stick around in morbidity. From the culmination of the lyrics on “Shadows with Teeth” to the overall vibe at times of settling into some kind of catharsis, the album seems to chart a course towards some kind of peace. Would you describe the music as cathartic?
WR: I think each song definitely takes a path, both in lyrics and the music itself, toward catharsis. Coming to an emotional realization or finding closure or something like that. It’s another thing that I think comes with the territory of this kind of music, but it was satisfying to pinpoint the emotions on hope or acceptance or resolve. It’s the kind of thing I hope people can find comfort, relief, and beauty in.
CH: Lastly, a lighter question that I like to ask — what music, of any sort, have you really been connecting with lately? What’s been on your heavy rotation?
WR: I’ve been listening to a lot of new stuff from Noctule, Pupil Slicer, Iceage, Japanese Breakfast, Julien Baker, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.