Review of The Pale Haunt Departure by Novembers Doom

Band: Novembers Doom
Album: The Pale Haunt Departure
Release Date: 8 March 2005
Record Label: The End Records
Performing at Maryland Deathfest XIV: 4:10 Friday at Edison Lot B

The Pale Haunt Departure by Novembers Doom

This review of an 11 year old album is part of our ongoing coverage leading up to Maryland Deathfest XIV. I let my writers pick an album by a band that isn’t as popular as some of the bigger names at the fest and write about it in the hopes of getting some more people interested in seeing them at MDF. DCHM writer Tal put together this thoughtful piece on Novembers Doom. You can see DCHM writer Buzzo Jr’s MDF pick here. Stay tuned as I’ll be posting the Maryland Deathfest XIV Survival Guide in just a few hours!

Although I love Novembers Doom, I find it really hard to listen to The Pale Haunt Departure, the Chicago based band’s fifth full-length album which came out in 2005. Pioneers of the death/doom genre, they actually started as a death-thrash band called Laceration in 1989, but by the 1995 release of their first full-length, Amid Its Hallowed Mirth, they had renamed themselves and changed to a trudging doomy sound, sometimes melodic but always dripping with despair. In the early 2000s they reincorporated a more energetic death metal sound, and now their current sound ranges from heavy riffs and growled vocals that sound surprisingly like Swedish melodeath, to lamenting clean vocals, morose guitar melodies and thick doomy riffs characteristic of their early albums. In terms of sound, I actually prefer 2007’s The Novella Reservoir, where they perfect the melodeath sound that they brought in on The Pale Haunt Departure. But The Pale Haunt Departure strikes an emotional chord for me which is hard to escape, no matter how painful.

The first Novembers Doom song I heard was “Autumn Reflection,” which remains one of their most popular songs to this day (all these years later, it’s still the third result in a YouTube search for Novembers Doom, with over 630,000 views as of this writing). I first heard this song when I was just starting my (still ongoing) recovery from post-partum depression, and my relationship with my young daughter was in shambles. The chorus cut me to me core:

I thank the heavens above
For the angel beside me today
The guardian of my sanity
The one who will save my soul

I thought, Damn. This is it. If I don’t get this right, the rest of life isn’t worth a thing. It hurt like hell but it also inspired me to keep picking myself up out of the mayhem and trying to be a better parent, when it was the hardest thing I could possibly do. When I found out in an interview that vocalist Paul Kuhr wrote the song about his own daughter, that only made it more poignant. I can’t believe he says he “catches shit” for writing this “weak” song, by the way. Emotionally I find it quite heavy, and it does have some musical heaviness too.

“Autumn Reflection” is probably the slowest song on the album, though, with no harsh vocals. It does feature some very distorted and heavy guitars during the chorus, a stark contrast to Paul Kuhr’s haunted vocal delivery. There’s nothing weak about those thick guitar riffs, which create a wall of gloom that Paul’s hopeful vocals try to surmount. Toward the end of the song, as Paul sings, “I am stronger now, since you came to my life,” the hopeful feeling prevails (mostly) with a melodic guitar bridge and piano segment that are at once sad and uplifting.

The song after this on the album, “Dark World Burden,” is quite a change, with fast, groovy melodeath riffage. As I alluded to before, The Pale Haunt Departure was the album where Novembers Doom added more of a death metal sound to their previous ponderous and contemplative doom sound. The album starts with this crisp, fast drumbeat and a churning, energetic riff—the eponymous first song is more death than doom, also featuring growled vocals throughout. Novembers Doom used harsh vocals earlier, but they were extra-low and drawn out doom vocals, whereas these are faster and more aggressive melodeath harsh vocals.

The second song, “Swallowed by the Moon,” has more of a slow moody sound with dramatic spoken vocals, although there are also commanding death metal growls. This is another song that seems to deal with failure in parent-child relationships:

Will you remember that I tried my best?
Will you remember the father I was?
Once again the daylight fades, and I’m swallowed by the moon
Will you look back and smile for me?
Will you remember me when I have gone?

The song isn’t completely slow, though–it’s more a mix of melodeath bits, growls and moments of faster heavier guitars, and doomy bits, a mixture that characterizes most of the album.

Prior to The Pale Haunt Departure, Novembers Doom had a lot of line-up changes, but around the time TPHD was released, things started to stabilize. They’ve since changed drummers and bassists, but the guitarists Larry Roberts and Vito Marchese have been with Paul, the only remaining original member, since the early 2000’s. Actually, according to another interview, Larry Roberts was apparently the driving force behind the band’s shift to a more death metal sound.

Most of the other songs on The Pale Haunt Departure have a strong death metal vibe, with fast heavy riffs and growled vocals, but they also have their doomy moments—ominous or despairing spoken vocals, darkly churning or melancholic or dreamy melodic guitars, the crushing but ponderous pace of “The Dead Leaf Echo.” Failure in relationships continues to be a theme, as shown by the chorus from that song:

All I can do, is look the other way, and pretend that your face held a smile.
Not to see your sullen eyes, staring past my soul, into the darkness of night.
I feel I’ve failed you, when we both know, I never had the chance, to say hello.

It’s not easy listening—for me personally, many of the lyrics on this album bring back the time when I was left alone with my daughter, the sinister specter of depression and the strain it has put on our relationship. But I think it would be worse to forget these things—to forget about the angel by my side, how far I have come and the work I still have left to do. I may have lost the paradise of my innocence, but salvation may still be possible. I hear it in the thick and doomy yet uplifting guitars in the last song on the album, “Collapse of the Falling Throe.” The lyrics, however, are much darker than the music would suggest.

And in spite my emotional turmoil, I’m stoked to see Novembers Doom at MDF, where they’re playing Friday at 4:10pm in the Edison Lot. Metal is not an easy listening genre; sometimes it can be quite horrendous. This wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve been at a show and had difficult emotions come up. But the very reason doom appeals to so many people, the unique mix of heaviness and sadness that made Novembers Doom one of the foremost U.S. death/doom bands, is the cathartic feeling of facing your inner demon and being able to set it aside. Also, after years of fandom I’m stoked to finally get this chance to see the band live. Despite being from Chicago, Novembers Doom doesn’t seem to tour the U.S. much – they’re bigger in Europe and seem to spend more time performing there. If you’re a fan of heavy music with deep feeling then this is an opportunity not to be missed.

Autumn Reflection:

The Pale Haunt Departure:

Dark World Burden live:

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