Novembers Doom hail from Chicago, making them one of the few fine doom metal bands not from Sweden. Their style is both crushingly heavy and hauntingly beautiful, and The Pale Haunt Departure is for me one of their finest releases.
The band was birthed to a whirlwind of lineup changes and EPs in the early 1990s, moving swiftly from a thrash/death metal band to a much eerier and doom-laden sound. In 1995 their first full-length album Amid Its Hallowed Mirth, paying homage to the sound of early releases by bands such as My Dying Bride and Anathema. This was followed by Of Sculptured Ivy and Stone, furthering the classic doom metal sound that they had set out with. In 2000 this was followed with The Knowing, but it was 2002’s To Welcome the Fade that introduced a more polished, faster and melodic sound, similar to contemporaries My Dying Bride, with whom they toured around the same time.
And then came The Pale Haunt Departure, bringing a much-needed maturity to their music, both compositionally and in production. Simultaneously shimmering and heavy, it balances fast-paced death metal with hauntingly beautiful acoustic moments deftly in a manner that reflects the progressive style of bands such as Opeth as much as it does traditional doom metal. In particular is the penultimate track Through a Child’s Eyes, a dismal ballad that brings shivers to my spine.
The album opens with title track The Pale Haunt Departure, eerie and dissonant choirs giving way to thundering drums and crushing guitars, blasting out of the gate at breakneck pace. This is followed by the epic Swallowed by the Moon, breaking in with a jarring counterpoint of acoustic strumming and deafening distortion before vocalist Paul Kehr’s refined death growls soar over the music. It is on this track that we also are introduced to his clean singing and unearthly, deep moaning. Autumn Reflection brings a change of pace, opening with delicate acoustic guitar work. When the heaviness sets in again it is at a much slower pace, trudging miserably on. Dark World Burden speeds us up again, before leading into the absolutely marvelous back half of the album. In the Absence of Grace, The Dead Leaf Echo, Through a Child’s Eyes and Collapse of the Fallen Throe merge seamlessly one into another, traveling through a world of utter darkness and misery.
One of the things that makes this album meaningful for me is the theme that threads throughout the songs: a father and husband, torn apart with guilt and misery as the darkness of his soul rips him away from all that he loves. There are moments that bring genuine tears to my eyes, where the words could have come from my own thoughts:
“Will you remember when I held you tight?
Will you remember the sound of my voice?
Once again the daylight fades, and I’m swallowed by the moon
Will this experience scar your fragile mind?
Will you remember when we would both laugh?”
Swallowed by the moon – Novembers Doom, 2005
A plaintive song to his child, begging forgiveness for the misery that he has brought, it haunts me every time I hear it. Equally powerful are the words of The Dead Leaf Echo, an acknowledgement of the utter failure as a husband:
“Since the day I let you believe, that a grand life I would provide
I am haunted by the failure you see before you, consuming the echo
To travel the road of our dreams, with my back against the wall
All I can do, is look the other way, and pretend that your face held a smile.”
The Dead Leaf Echo – Novembers Doom, 2005
So many times have these same thoughts crossed my mind that I cannot help but be drawn into this album, traveling its road of misery unto the very end. It’s something that will probably not be to everybody’s taste, but for me is the perfect draught of agony and misery.