Written by: Volt Thrower
Let's just get this out of the way first: that artwork. Lordy it's stunning, and sets the bar high without a single note even being played. I own this record on vinyl and like 80% of the decision to buy it was based on the artwork alone. Designed by Toronto based tattoo artist Arthur Mills, it perfectly captures the haunting, war-torn, cosmic yet industrial landscape the band lays to waste on their second EP now, Pale Mare II. Pale Mare instantly get compared to High on Fire, which is lofty and can be a bit unfair, but the band themselves don't seem to shy away from the comparison on their bandcamp page.
So, lets dig into some High on Fire worship, shall we?
Immediately after that first riff hits, orange amp stacks and a shirtless warlock are the first images conjured up in your mind. "House of War" definitely feels like it could be slipped into Surrounded by Thieves without missing a beat, but it has a uniqueness that saves them from the rip-off/clone label. The guitarist and backup shouter, Eytan Gordon, somehow perfectly captures the HoF essence, without just copying Matt Pike's signature slide-riffing style shredding. Tommy Gervais, the bassist and lead vocalist (immediately cool), leads the charge with a throat ripping roar that could convince the most timid of humans to follow him into battle. Of course these lads play shirtless too--almost have to, just out of respect.
Rounding out Side A is another stomping war march of a tune in "Zealot," a track in which drummer Kevin Richards gets to show off his chops and take the lead. Really terrific two minutes of opening instrumental. The mixing feels a bit muddy, and keeps the drums from being the chest pounding force that they could be, but they still sound great and really drive the groove and pummel for Pale Mare. The band builds a brief sense of dreadful atmosphere before collapsing in on itself and bringing a really strong close to the first half of the record.
Flip over to side B and it starts off intriguing enough, before devolving into the monotone one-line shouter of "Voidgazer." This Conanesque dragging slab of metal has some nice atmosphere building throughout the middle of the track, but just a repeating intro and outro chorus which feels like a bit of a letdown. I really want to like this tune because I love Conan, it was the lead single and clearly the inspiration for the artwork. But I just can't help the feeling of boredom compared to the exploration and density of the other three songs. I understand the pace shift in what should be a good mix-up of continuity, but it misses the mark in my opinion and messes up the overall cohesion of the album.
Thankfully though, they go and absolutely redeem themselves with the album closer "Remains." A nine minute rager, led in by feedback and a groovy, tone-rich bass lead, sees the band really unfurl their wings, and place their own stamp on heavy metal. A heavy, slow building masterpiece building a dirty industrial tinged charge. Towards the end of the track they pull off their own execution of what made HoF special on their first couple records. The whole band in perfect lock-step, guitars trying to escape the bounds of gravity with an ethereal noodling solo, held in orbit by the rhythm and charge of the other members. Before exploding one last time with the initial groove and heft to place an exclamation point on the whole outing. A little acoustic outro and the four tracks and twenty eight minutes have flown by, leaving you satisfied but wanting more.
Seeing the improvements from their first EP to the second leaves one excited for a future full-length, and I'm glad I purchased it. It also comes with 24”x12” foldout with expanded artwork which is absolutely gorgeous. Highly recommended for fans of: High on Fire and Conan. If there was a Sleeping Village Medieval Metal Records* this would’ve been a fine release to represent the village name.
Pale Mare - Pale Mare II was released April 3rd from Seeing Red Records.
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!