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Novembers Doom started out as a more traditional doom/death band with the doom metal side being predominant, but with this album, they went all out and just cranked out some heavy, hook-fisted riffs with some of the best extreme metal vocals out there. Every song is put together with care, and the whole thing shows some real creativity in its themes and songwriting.
The Pale Haunt Departure is a concept album about a father who dies and comes back as a ghost to watch over his son, with the tone changing from a steadfast devotion and fatherly care to a paranoid, twisted kind of moroseness, and finally to outright madness and violence. It really brings to light a lot of issues about how we perceive things and how time changes those perceptions, and also how such a long time in solitude (especially forced to watch one’s loved ones from afar as this story tells) distorts and twists perspectives. This is a very well told, depressing and heartfelt story, and it’s living proof that lyrics can enhance the listening experience. The whole thing plays out like a great musical drama, and the lyrics are essential to completely understanding this work.
True, that wouldn’t mean much if it didn’t have good music to go along with it, but The Pale Haunt Departure has awesome music. This is death/doom done in a different way from how I usually hear it done, with more compact songwriting saddled with excellent, punishing, catchy hooks that are honestly near impossible to get out of your head. The riffs are where the death metal part comes in – huge, stomping and dominating, with a really great balance between being smooth and crunchy, and the band interweaves them with bleak acoustic passages and clean guitar melodies that add a ton of atmosphere. The doom comes from the stately, marching tempos that just drone on and on, pounding the riffs into you with power, never getting boring or anything, as the band knows how and when to change up the monotony to make it arresting rather than just plodding.
The vocals of Paul Kuhr are just awesome, as he has this great, deep bellow of a growl and also a really excellent somber clean voice, really deep and smooth, like Mikael Akerfeldt if he was any good. The songs themselves are heavy, direct and hooky, and also overflowing with a huge, wistful and sorrowful atmosphere. Check out excellently heavy blends of atmosphere and crunch on songs like the awesome title track, the sublime “Swallowed by the Moon” and the propulsive “Dark World Burden.” Then you also get more complex epics like the towering “In the Absence of Grace” and the searing “Dead Leaf Echo,” as well as the moody, sensitive “Autumn Reflection” – metal needs more stuff with baritone vocalists.
But there are no bad songs, and the album as a whole flows excellently as a maelstrom of despair, loss and hatred. This is one of those extreme metal albums that is accessible by even non-extreme metal fans, as it condenses a ton of class and style into one big sledgehammer of doomy, artful METAL. I can’t fault this much at all, so go check it out or I’ll set a ferret on you like that one scene in The Big Lebowski.
Novembers Doom has been churning out high quality doom metal for over a decade now and with the Pale Haunt Departure, they are starting to get the recognition they deserve (and for good reason).
To begin, Novembers Doom isn't really even doom. They began worshipping at the altar of bands like My Dying Bride and have evolved into a more melodic entity beginning with their previous record, To Welcome the Fade. Think Brave Murder Day era Katatonia mixed with Blackwater Park era Opeth with remnants of the classic European doom bands like MDB and Anathema. Needless to say, that rules.
The absolute highlight of this record is vocalist Paul Kuhr. The man gives Mikael Akerfeldt a run for his money with his guttural yet understandable growl and his clean singing is the best it has ever been. Kuhr doesn't have great range but his vocals are honest and there is obvious feeling behind them. Tracks like "Swallowed by the Moon" and "In the Absence of Grace" showcase the improved vocals and an excellent variation in delivery. Musically, the whole band is great. Guitarists Larry Roberts and Vito Marchese have done an excellent job with their thundering chords (best on the title track) and their depressing clean melodys that remind me of Opeth on occasion ("Swallowed by the Moon and Autumn Reflection" in particular). Drummer Joe Nunez plays the standard doom metal fare but throws in some very interesting tribal drumming on the title track and has some other tricks up his sleeve. Next, the production, like the last record, is excellent. Mixed by Dan Swano and mastered by the immortal James Murphy, the production job is one of the best you'll hear all year. The drum sound is huge, the guitars are huge and the vocals don't overshadow anything but are heard clearly. Everything about this production is huge!!!
My only problem with this release is the lyrics. I immediately give Paul Kuhr credit for wearing his heart on his sleeve ("Swallowed by the Moon" is about Kuhr losing his daughter) but they seem too concrete and straightforward for my liking. Had the lyrics taken the metaphors introduced in the songtitles and extended them, we could be talking about album of the year. The lyrics are by no means bad but looking at the thoughtful song titles, I was expecting a little more.
"The Pale Haunt Departure" is an excellent record and deserves to be picked up. This band has been making quality metal for a long time but there is no doubt in my mind that this is their best. If you like older Katatonia, newer Opeth or classic Euro doom, do yourself a favor and check this out.