Poisoned breaths choking hydra’s blood atop defeat’s splatter and furious hiss, the din of serpentine collapse cures neither scream-boxed ear nor warbling vision. Death, redemption, temptation, and very purpose of the ‘soul’ runs through the mind split, halved, and quartered seconds faster than black venom’s gripping feud with the blood-brain barrier. For a moment the curse is slow and the sunset is long enough that I can mull over the cessation of this eternally chewing, tormented life and what goodness I’d leave behind. All is void without the blues, hues of free skies and sorrow’s realism held within the bard’s lamentations, where all woes expressed are tincture and cure for insatiable poisonous thee, I. What news comes of the past’s revelations if the skull’s innards are as blind and deaf as its adorning orifice? Those who listen and seethe are sure to be struck by deus ex machina from within, knowledge gleaned from hard lessons learned, a thousand bolts of lightning to the breasts of ever-open and reasonable men yet, none would expect –this- aghast mutation. Whereas auld wizards grow infinite silver beards as time bleeds past, very few grow a second head! In their twenty-fifth year and now realizing their sixth full-length record, so sage and erupting with inner fire is Pale Divine that ‘Consequence of Time’ finds them sprouting a second voice that’d double their range to greater harmony and sparking light far beyond already high expectations.
Spirit to spare and always a bassist short, Pale Divine formed in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania in 1995 as what I’d consider a ‘modern’ doom metal band long before it made sense for that generation to even think of a ‘retro’ gig that wasn’t a tribute band. 70’s psychedelic heavy blues and gloom-stricken traditional heavy/doom metal only sounds like a subtle pairing in average hands and no doubt the trio were stricken by some great conviction from the start with their effects-soaked and heartfelt doomed beginnings. You’ll find catchy, unforgettable gems that dignify each of their formative releases but it was the third Pale Divine album (‘Cemetery Earth‘, 2007) that truly set deepest roots within the greater doom metal headspace, it was where they’d always wanted to be and the year of collaboration with pre-Sinister Realm main man John Gaffney would result in an album that I count among the best of all time. This is why I care about Pale Divine and why I think every fan of traditional doom/heavy psych should know them. Hard as it is to simply leap a decade in the future, ‘Pale Divine‘ (2018) was a rebirth, a re-connection with their roots and a nigh perfect sum statement of where they’d been and how strong they were after a nearly six year quiet, having taken part in heavy psych band Beelzefuzz in the meantime. From the outside looking in it’d seem that project’s end left a bitter taste in mouth as it became ashes, and ‘Pale Divine’ was a strong return, a statement of strong identity as much as it was in defiance of dire times.
With former Beelzefuzz band-mate (and frontman) Dana Ortt joining on second guitar for the touring cycle beyond the recording of ‘Pale Divine’ it wasn’t necessarily inevitable that Pale Divine would come to employ his full vocal range, songwriting skills, and guitar work nor do I think the band intended this change so much as it never made sense to resist it, the dude is a fantastic musician. Guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener has one of the most distinct voices and melodic sensibilities in traditional doom metal, cognizant of 70’s heavy psych song structures far beyond the superficial garbage-takes you’ll find in a lot of moonlighting doom metal bands past and present. Can you say you’ve truly gotten a hit of Atomic Rooster and Dio from any other artist (maybe Tony Reed?) in the last couple of decades? Anyhow, Diener‘s voice is irreplaceable, haunting to the very core of anyone willing to engage yet it’d improved in diction but not advanced in oeuvre since 2007 or so. By adding Ortt to the vocal fold it not only brings his broad range of late 70’s psychedelic rock-isms to spark up anthemic heavy rock jogs and classic Rainbow-esque flair but provides some fresh cadence for Diener to explore when the two appear on the same piece (“No Escape”). Do not fret at all if my mooning over the grand expansion of the band’s range suggests too drastic a change, Pale Divine is still a deeply affecting doom metal band capable of incredibly heavy, soul-dusting traditional heavy metal spirituals.
The long-time Divine hound will feel entirely at home as opener “Tyrants & Pawns (Easy Prey)” rolls out and curls around the edges as if it were dug up from their 2007 sessions and re-written for two vocalists. The sound is energetic, glowering-yet-spirited and probably one of the most exciting opening numbers from the band, ever. When Ortt takes the lead on the river-rumbling ’75 Sabbathian sparkler “Satan in Starlight” it should absolutely feel like they’ve implanted the spirit of Beelzefuzz within the forever ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ soul of Pale Divine and honestly that is to say Ortt still sounds like Ortt and his voice fits quite naturally whether he is taking the lead or backing-up. It is a remarkable and effective change that ‘Consequence of Time’ is not at all shy about revealing. By the time you’re tapping your foot along to the blues-driven stoner burn of “Shadow’s Own” it’ll feel like you’ve put on a new pair of glasses, all that’d blurred in the past now seen more colorful and real. But goddamnit this isn’t a shoehorning into some keen doom metal pandering nor is it a plain n’ standard genre entry. What Pale Divine manage throughout ‘Consequence of Time’ is some manner of remarkable wizardry, of great care and craft that has taken these fellows to new highs in such a short period of time. It is the sort of heartfelt and body-high leap I live for as a fan of heavy music and I could not be more stunned by the experience.
My head begins to slack as the cosmic growl of “Phantasmagoria” sets in, a pure doom metal dirge serving to mystify the mid-point of the full listen and prepare for what I’d consider the centerpiece of the experience, the 10+ minute title track. This is yet another point where I’d suggest the long-time fan key into what is signature Pale Divine and what is subtly new, as the riffs and Diener‘s voice are sure to trigger endorphins of familiarity before the use of layered vocals towards the slow-jog into ‘Master of Reality’-meets-Trouble worthy second half where the vocals switch over to Ortt. This should absolutely be the point where you are sold on this new reality. The third official single from the album, “Saints on Fire”, has the opposite effect of the nostalgic feeling title track warming into an incredible guitar tone and now rousing the keyboard work up beyond the subtlety of earlier songs for an appropriately cathedralesque finale. This feels like it could have been written deepest into the process as it sounds like they’ve truly understood how far they could push the complexity and tonal excess of the Pale Divine sound and still come out of it unscathed. I’d personally hit a bit of an existential crisis upon first hearing “Saints on Fire” as I began to wonder if this new glory achieved within ‘Consequence of Time’ might actually be my favorite thing they’d ever done.
Unironically stated, time and a measure of collected dust will decide where my mind settles into the experience but, thus far I can continue to insist that Pale Divine are the best doom metal band going today and one of few to inspire emotional connection with the weight and message of their music. This sort of reaction means so much more when it is earned and not yanked carelessly from a sometimes easy mark such as myself. My head is in a better place because of it, doom metal is elevated by it, and without a doubt I can count ‘Consequence of Time’ among the absolute best records released in 2020. Granted I have years of fandom and familiarity with the band there to reinforce that bond yet there’ll be no questioning the tour-de-force of songwriting and distinctly expressed traditional doom metal heaviness that his album brings. The two-headed, all-in approach turns out to be a great success for my own taste and I feel comfortable giving ‘Consequence of Time’ the highest possible recommendation.
Highest recommendation. 5.0/5.0
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