Being the best American doom metal band is sorta like being the best Italian chef in Des Moines. You may kick ass, but a lot of purists are gonna hold your address against you before they've sampled a bit of what you have to offer. NOVEMBERS DOOM has been dealing with this stigma since their inception — as if only fog-bound Limeys squelching along dark moors in ratty capes can properly convey the mournful throb of melancholy that is doom. True, many originators of the sound, the ones NOVEMBERS DOOM look to for inspiration — MY DYING BRIDE, ANATHEMA and PARADISE LOST — come from the U.K. But hell, the best cowboy songs were written by nerdy Jews in Brooklyn, as ARLO GUTHRIE once said (and if he didn't, he should've). No one chunk of earth has the market cornered on graceful, sodden misery, and to ignore NOVEMBERS DOOM for ethnocentric reasons is to deny some of the best, bleakest dark metal in existence.The sound on "The Pale Haunt Departure" is massive, great walls of dark, opaque guitars crashing down, chugging along at a tempo that conveys an urgency and brooding sense of menace. Musically, at least, there's a passing resemblance to OPETH in places (something the band would undoubtedly dispute, but listen to "In the Absence of Grace" — its swing, its tempo and chords — and tell me it's not true). There's something almost regal about NOVEMBERS DOOM; their sound maintains that sedate, classy Continental vibe but holds onto a tension and aggression, even in the slowest songs, that none of the "old guard" of doom really captured in this form, then or now. The star of "The Pale Haunt Departure" is undoubtedly vocalist (and sole original member) Paul Kuhr. His death vocals are deep and authoritative, while his clean vocals, always good, have never sounded better. His ability to carry a melodic chorus ("Dark World Burden"), pull off the multi-tracked Gregorian midsection of "In the Absence of Grace" (a truly spine-tingling moment), or bellow the emotionally charged lyrics of "Swallowed by the Moon" beside the gothic, soul-baring love paean "Autumn Reflection is stunning. The sense of loss and failure he brings to the depressive lyrics of "The Dead Leaf Echo" and "Swallowed By the Moon" is just heart-wrenching, a triptych to the edge of shameful despair, uncomfortably painful and personal (one hopes, for his sake, that he's writing in character). NOVEMBERS DOOM are still evolving, shedding some influences (the oh-so-1999 female vocals are gone) and absorbing others, even as they become metric tons heavier and more powerful with each release. "The Pale Haunt Departure" is the kind of record you almost wanna call a work of art, an obsidian hulk of crushing guitars and primal sorrow, heartbreak and the futility of life captured in sonic form. An epic statement and a watershed in doom metal, location be damned.
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