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Cleveland, Ohio in the nineties was the place to be if you want to hear metallic hardcore. Bands like Ringworm and Integrity were completely destroying venues and helping to build Cleveland's reputation as the Mecca of uncompromising metallic tinged hardcore. A mere two hours away, the Detroit scene was adding to Cleveland's reputation with bands like Cold as Life and Negative Approach playing regularly. Two hours the other direction was the famous “Lake Effect” hardcore scene of Erie with seminal hardcore attacks Brother's Keeper and xDisciplex. It should go without saying that the Cleveland in the nineties was a happening place for hardcore.
Pale Creation were a part of that fully blossomed Cleveland scene. The formed in 1990, released a demo in 1992 and then just existed in the scene until they took their almost decade worth of experience and dropped the bomb on the scene that was “Twilight Haunt” in 1999. Taking their cues from the aforementioned Cleveland acts, “Twilight Haunt” is definitely on the hardcore side of the fence, but with a very strong metallic influence. Placing this album alongside such classics Ringworm's “The Promise” and Integrity's “Seasons in the Size of the Days”, it holds its own surprisingly well.
Much like Dwid Hellion (of Integrity fame) meddled with electronic and noise genres, especially on the “Integrity 2000” album, Pale Creation dabbles in ambient and electronic soundscapes. “Twilight Haunt” starts of with two minutes electrical whirring and futuristic ambiance before blasting full force into the album's best and most crushing song, “Manifest in Me”. The beginning of “Manifest in Me” sets the tone for the rest of the album: crunchy guitars, rolling, fill-laden drum lines, deep wandering bass lines and throat-torn, shouted vocals. Each track is around the two to three minute mark, except for the daunting “Dreamscape Soundtrack”, but we'll discuss that later. With such short songs, Pale Creation quickly get to the point and don't let up.
There's talk surrounding how Pale Creation began to incorporate elements of sludge and progressive metal into their work, but the guitar lines are the only place these elements are heard on “Twilight Haunt”. When not chugging and riffing away like a good hardcore band should, the lines slow down markedly (even though the drums are still blasting away in the background) to a sludgy almost doom-laden style. The lines are slower and gritty, not too unlike EyeHateGod minus the southern-tinges. The solos see a bit of the progressive influence, with slow paced, haunting solos played over top of the metallic hardcore. The solos aren't anything extraordinary, but they do help set an eerie atmosphere.
Some small elements of metal are here and there, but for the most part the guitars stick to the tried and true chunky, chugging hardcore lines. The chugging riffs have an amazing underlying catchiness to them and stick with you long after the album is over. I can see how Pale Creation would have been a great live band, as every riff gets your head moving. The amazing thing about the riffs is that, although they get you moving, they're actually quite minimalistic. It's not just a straight riff and chug fest; instead opting to utilize free space to allow the drums and bass to shine even more. The bass lines help keep the head nodding tremendously. I know I haven't discussed the drumming much yet, but it is so frantic, that the bass helps keeps the rhythm section rooted to the guitar lines. It may wander around over the music, but it relates very nicely to the timing and notes of the guitar lines.
The drums are probably the most exciting part of this release. Hardcore is known for the Hatebreed drumming style of running on the double bass while going “Crash, crash, snare, crash, crash, snare.” Thankfully, Pale Creation stayed away from that, as this album is pretty much one long fill with an underlying double kick beat. There are sections that go into running double bass lines, but they are extremely infrequent. The cymbal work is extensive with a lot of ride hits and china crashes while the toms roll all over the place.
Vocally, Pale Creation is somewhere between a scream and a shout. Nick Brewer's vocal lines sound like he is tearing his vocal chords apart with each new word. The closest thing I can find to Pale Creation is the rest of the Cleveland scene. The lines sound strikingly similar to Integrity's mid era work, only less spastic and nasally than Dwid. They fit the chugging, riff-laden style of the music perfectly, and although they tend to keep a slower tempo than the guitar lines, it all comes together when the eerie solos fall into line after the vocals.
The eight and half minute opus, “Dreamscape Soundtrack”, sounds exactly like the rest of the album, only slower. It's a daunting listen, mainly because of the length. The entire album maintains a pretty fast and aggressive stance, until this track. I say it sounds like the rest of the album, because in nature, it does. Take the fast paced style of “Manifest in Me” and “Desperate Calm”, both around two and half minutes, and stretch it out to eight thirty, with the same number of drum hits and guitar notes. It's a long version of the rest of the album, and unfortunately, it sounds extremely out of place.
Pale Creation's “Twilight Haunt” is a great trip down memory lane, as they show what the nineties Cleveland scene was all about: chugging riffs, insane drumming and tortured, shouted vocals. If you like metallic-tinged hardcore, it doesn't get much better than this. That being said, if you don't like hardcore then stay away. There may be some metal influences here and then, but this is, without a doubt, a hardcore album, and one of the best at that.