I am no stranger to depression and what it can do. It has affected me to a certain degree, where I am always on constant alert about changes in moods and thoughts. While I present myself as functional, there are days where all I want to do is block out the world and lie down on my bed. Listening to SHRVL’s Limbus feels like waking up after a particularly bad depressive episode, where any wrong thought or action during the day leads to doubt and to spiraling about things outside of your control. It’s oppressive, cacophonous, and eerie, and you can’t help but stare at the looming, gray walls these songs seem to conjure.
It’s also an album of deep serenity and understanding, where the sound oscillates between white noise and a deep, sensual beat that comes out stronger with each passing track. It takes itself apart, only to be putting itself whole once again – and it does this repeatedly, ad nauseam.
Stylized as the five stages for clinical depression treatment, Limbus is the score to someone starting treatment, where your first instinct is to lay down and wait for something to happen, only to realize that you need help. First track “Response” sounds like snatches of music taken from The Ocean’s recent output – astute listeners will come to know this is an offshoot from the highly-anticipated Holocene. That heaviness in the beginning of the track indicates a sense of urgency to find a baseline emotional state in order to begin treatment. It struck me how the main melody, this deep buzzing tone that sounds like the clash of many synths, remains constant while everything else shifts around it. It can signify a myriad of things: the awareness that depressive symptoms are receding; the constant awareness to make note of when things begin to improve; the indication that you are slowly moving towards a functioning state.
Once you are past “Response,” you start to see how deeply personal Limbus actually is. While the treatment has three main stages – response, remission, and recovery – there are two stages that can still occur, one where you are in remission, and one where you are in recovery. Third track “Relapse” is the middle stage between remission and recovery, where someone’s depressive symptoms have returned after being in remission. The music on the track highlights this, as it sounds like a callback to “Response,” but the dread is more prominent here. The urgency to find a baseline has returned, but it sounds like an alarm going off, and it doesn’t stop. It’s overwhelming and cacophonous, and it makes you want to throw something against the wall. Then, towards the end, a lone piano plays, calming and soft, signifying that you have reached response again. We are back on track in treatment and it comes in the form of “Recovery,” where the music is more upbeat and the instrumentation is more abundant. Here is where the combinations of electronica, strings, synths, and deep tones truly come alive. You have now made progress to the point where you no longer experience symptoms, in comparison to your response level, but you may experience setbacks every now and then. You have achieved a sense of peace, an understanding of your condition, and the methods to cope with it in the long run.
However, the album doesn’t end with “Recovery,” it ends with the 24-minute track “Recurrence,” the last stage of clinical depression treatment, and the one that can occur after recovery. Recurrence is defined as the onset of another depressive episode after achieving recovery, and we return to an amplified version of the cold and sterile sounds of “Response” and the dread of “Relapse.” The fact that this is how the album ends – back to a new onset of depression, back to treatment, back to the same damn cycle – strongly showcases how people who live with this mental disorder struggle to come back to a sense of normalcy. “Recurrence” shows us that this illness doesn’t go away just because we have medication, therapy, and the coping skills to deal with it. It can take years to come back to a sense of normalcy, and the constant maintenance a person has to do in order to maintain that normalcy is something they will have to do for the rest of their lives.
All in all, Limbus is a portrait of someone who has gone through the gauntlet of treatment and possibly even continues going to therapy in order to keep their normalcy. Although the album may seem to be repetitive at times and it can be a challenging listen when not in the right headspace, Limbus is still a compelling listen and one that deserves your time.
Limbus will be available May 19 on Pelagic Records. For more information on SHRVL, visit their official website.