Artist – Pale Grey Lore
Album / Label – Eschatology / Small Stone Records
Rating – 8.5 / 10
- the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.
The end of the world. The Doomsday Clock. The impending apocalypse. Perhaps it is not something you wish to think about, but the boys over at Pale Gray Lore refuse to let the topic rest. The Columbus quartet have had three years to stew since their self-titled record was released in 2016 on Oak Island Records, to positive applause. Our review of it is here.
The band had only just become a four-piece at the time, with the lineup remaining Michael Miller on lead vocals and guitars, Xander Roseberry on guitar, theremin, and backing vocals, Adam Miller on drums and Donovan Johnson on bass for the new record. Since then, they’ve played multiple metal festivals, including the Maryland Doom Festival and Chicago Doomed & Stoned. In an interview with Doomed and Stoned, Michael Miller explains the idea behind the record:
“Nobody in the band is religious at all, but we all grew up in (more or less) Catholic families, so these ideas are familiar enough. And although I’m highly skeptical of the idea of salvation or the prospect of an afterlife, the end-of-the-world aspect of eschatological doctrine struck me as particularly fitting given the way we’re marching toward impending climate disaster under late capitalism.”
The band again worked with engineer Andy Sartain at Mindfield Recording Studios to make an even heavier and more outstanding album. Miller told me the band looked to reach out towards new influences while still holding on to their signature sound.
“I’m a huge fan of early 70s prog and kraut-rock, but I also love British Invasion style garage-y psych rock, like the Beatles and the Stones,” he explained. “Their music was hook-y, and to the point. We kind of cherry pick from all our influences and this is what comes out.”
The album opens with a creepy, crawling guitar standing alone in an ambient mist of spooky sounds on Sunken Cities. Johnson’s bass rumbles out of the darkness before the rest of the group joins in. Michael Miller’s voice rings clearly on the chorus We are trapped, we cannot leave – there’s not much oxygen to breathe. Adam Miller’s drums build around the blasting guitars, creating a perfect picture of distorted harmony. What immediately hits you on the first track is that the recording of this album is significantly clearer than their self-titled debut.
That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of heavy fuzz and rattle, but the band obviously put forth their best effort to give you a record that you won’t soon forget. Greed Springs Eternal picks up the tempo and psychedelic feel, with splashing cymbals and a grinding bass line from Johnson that made me giddy. Already the band has given music fans two different tastes of a similar coin.
Lyrically, Greed talks about a world where the capitalist overlords continue to destroy the planet while lining their pockets. The entire record is conceptually based around a massive war that has destroyed a “fictional” planet; how it happened and what has transpired since.
The weight of Before the Fall hits you like a sixteen ton anvil, right off the bat. Ready or not, here comes the Lore! You’d swear you were listening to an off-shoot of Sabbath on this track, with Miller’s voice cutting through heavy sludge. There is a down-trodden solo that pushes you up against the wall near the end, and you almost have to brush the figurative dust off of yourself after finishing the track.
As the feedback dies out, you find yourself at Regicide, a spacey song with a soaring guitar from Roseberry interspersed between the chugging bass and guitar from Johnson and Miller. The singer told me that while the record is a concept album following a sci-fi/cosmic horror narrative, it is also deliberately rooted in contemporary issues.
“With that song in particular, if you are paying attention to the news,” he explained, “you will definitely notice some resonant themes.”
Waiting for the Dawn has a feel unlike any other on the record, with acoustic guitars and a whole lot of ambient fog. I’d almost call it shoegaze, but the guitars on the song pull me all the way back to the 1960s. Call it what you want; the band isn’t shy about letting their music speak for itself and Waiting reads its script loudly through the wall of noise.
I first heard The Rift at the band’s show back in June, and I was immediately impressed by Adam Miller’s prowess behind the kit. The band certainly harnessed his energy as well as Roseberry’s ability to bend the strings and send sonic shockwaves into your eardrums. The Rift also opens with the wail of a theremin, one of the more unique instruments you’ll ever find in musical composition. It’s a fun and upbeat song that would fit perfectly into a high-speed car chase sequence.
Obviously the band did not write it for that reason, but I know it’ll be on my personal driving playlist for quite a while.
On Void-Cursed, the group brings back the heaviest sludge of all, with ferocious guitars battling through a coarse veil of sound. At the 4:15 mark the band turn around and kicks a doomy breakdown that literally hurt my back while listening. Perhaps it was the head-banging? Anyways, lyrically the song tells of a destroyed planet being left behind by those wealthy and powerful enough to get away. Sound somewhat familiar to 2019?
Silent Command is another song cut right from the cloth of the oldies. The song mashes surf-punk elements with groovier pop numbers from the 1960s, and sprinkles the more prog-laden early experimental metal acts of the 1970s on top. The fact that they are able to blend it all together and make it sound relevant in this era of music is fantastic, and the song has another wailing theremin piece that immediately perks your ears. Miller says he once saw Illinois rockers Tweak Bird use it in their set and was fascinated.
“I had been a fan of theremin-type sounds, digging that ’50s sci-fi movie thing,” he says, “but when I saw Tweak Bird use it in a heavy rock context, I was like, holy shit this rules!”
Adam Miller’s cymbals clang in the arrival of Undermined, another hard punching, fast paced number. Nothing that the boys do is delicate or frail, and I think they pride themselves in being able to bring a fluid musical attack while still providing poignant lyricism. At a svelte 2:50, it’s not your typical sludge/stoner/doom metal song, but Michael Miller says he doesn’t subscribe to the idea that their music has to be a certain way.
“I get bored with the idea of too much repetition, and not enough variety,” he continued. “I have this internal radar that goes off and tells me ‘do this riff half as long and add a cool bridge’ instead of just making the song super long and drawn out.
“I’m not against long songs, but I don’t feel that that’s really our strong suit,” he finished. “We try not to force things, we just let the songs take the shape they want to take that feels right to us.”
Their strong suit is definitely creating a craft that is both awe-inspiring and accessible. The album finishes with the title track, which runs up and down the sonic scale while continuing to hold on to the elements that the band has laid down for the previous nine tracks; heaviness without sacrificing groove.
The album is not delicate or dainty by any means. All four members are given their chance to shine on this one – thunderous bass, pummeling drums, equal parts crunchy and screaming guitars, and of course Michael Miller’s voice, which is at times so creepy that it perfectly paints the landscape that the band is looking to convey.
The album ends as it began, with creepy sounds in a cerebral soundscape, and with the final ring of the chime, this figurative world is laid to rest. I can find very few faults in this record, and I can tell that the band achieved exactly what they were going for. At times, the change-up between songs can be slightly confusing, but I personally feel it adds to the allure of the disc. Every single song on Eschatology sounds excellent, and that is a wondrous testament to every member of the recording team.
The sky is seemingly the limit for the talented foursome. And while Miller didn’t leave me any hints, I’m wondering if the band will follow this story up with a tale from the post-apocalyptic zone. Whatever they do, they can only continue to grow with experience.
- Sunken Cities
- Greed Springs Eternal
- Before the Fall
- Waiting for the Dawn
- The Rift
- Silent Command
Pale Grey Lore – The Rift