I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night a lot lately. All the stuff going on in the world. It’s sometimes hard to figure out what to do with myself in the sleepless wee hours. Anxious perseveration comes pretty naturally but isn’t conducive to relaxation, of course, much less sleep. Reading is better but requires a level of focus I sometimes just can’t muster. So then there’s listening to music and watching low key TV. Recently I’ve listened to a lot of Pale Divine’s new album, Consequence of Time, and I’ve watched the latest season of the History Channel’s survivalist docuseries, Alone, in which people are dropped, alone, into the middle of the wilderness, all alone, where they do their best to survive. Alone. The food, fire, and shelter aspects are interesting, but it’s the utterly-alone-with-oneself aspect of it that really intrigues me. What to do with a voice when there is no other to answer?
Fortunately for us, Greg Diener spends most of his time at home in Philadelphia writing music for Pale Divine. But who actually knows? Maybe he sneaks off into the Poconos in the middle of the night to conjure riffs and bark at the moon. In either case, the most recent result is Consequence of Time, Pale Divine’s sixth album and first for Italy’s Cruz del Sur.
Consequence of Time is basically two things: absolutely everything a Pale Divine fan should expect based on previous efforts, and also a considerably new and different incarnation of Pale Divine’s true and workmanlike take on doom. The first thing is evident in those riffs, perfectly, classically Diener, reminiscent of classic American doom, especially of the Maryland ilk, reaching back in time for inspiration from The Obsessed and Iron Man. As if remembering Pale Divine’s early albums, several songs on Consequence of Time also reach even further back to the warmer and brighter rock and roll and proto-doom of 70s bands like Deep Purple and Rainbow and, naturally, Black Sabbath, which is likely as much about new blood as it is nostalgia, attributable to the primary reason for that second thing up there (the newness of this record), which is the addition of guitarist and singer, Dana Ortt.
Ortt was a charter member of doom band Beelzefuzz, which struggled against some unfortunate band strife and drama, was reduced to just Ortt, then at one point featured Pale Divine members Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey, as well as Maryland doom stalwart Bert Hall, before Beelzefuzz ultimately split. That’s important because Beelzefuzz had a warmth and brightness and sort of progressive flair that found its way to Pale Divine when Diener and McCloskey and bassist Ron McGinnis asked Ortt into the band. The most notable place it appears in in the vocals, as Ortt’s upper register croon is immediately disconcerting in its stark contrast to the cooler, deeper, though no less melodic, vocals of Diener. It’s a big deal, Diener sharing vocals, and ends up having a huge impact, opening up a whole new of doom that only builds on the strength of Pale Divine’s tried and true approach.
If splitting the vocals is a big deal, then sharing the guitar work is doubly so, but again, Diener defers to Ortt for a good portion of it, and again, the results are wonderful. The Diener riffs are classic Pale Divine, smoky and smoldering, whereas Ortt’s add an extra, typically brighter, silvery sheen and together they elevate songs like “Saints of Fire” from solid to sensational by unbridling a synergistic spirit. The marks of that symbiotic energy are all over this record but are especially bright in the title track’s final few minutes wherein Diener and Ortt share both vocals and guitar riffs and solos, interweaving with and feeding each other amid the rock steady rhythmic rumble of McGinnis’ bass and McCloskey’s drums. Throughout Pale Divine’s career, Diener’s riffs have been the bread and his solos the butter (so much silky smooth butter) and Ortt’s addition to the band seems to have allowed Diener to find an extra gear that nobody ever knew he had (well, maybe he did), much less needed, but that makes his guitar work sound somehow freer and more invigorated than ever.
Consequence of Time does have one particularly large nit that begs to be picked, and that is the production, which is frankly the opposite of what the songs deserve. Each of these songs soar, even those on the slower, heavier side, and Diener and Ortt hit magnificent highs within each, but all along the way, it feels like members and their instruments are struggling against some invisible barrier, muted by a heavy blanket between the band and the listener. It’s most jarring early, when you first put it on, and the listener adjusts quickly, but it’s enough that she’s reminded of it more than once throughout the record’s run.
Ultimately, the production issues aren’t near enough to derail the fundamental high quality of Consequence of Time. The expanded vision, enthusiastic embrace of newfound yet sincere diversity in their songwriting, and top notch execution, come together as a remarkable example of a great band becoming better by bringing in a new member whose presence creates a sort of covalent bond, allowing similarities to build strength and differences to complement, building a balanced whole stronger than its component parts. Pale Divine has been reliably awesome throughout their career, producing nothing but quality and including a couple stone cold classics in Cemetery Earth and 2018’s self-titled album. With Consequence of Time, the band has made it abundantly clear that with more time and experience as a four-piece unit, their best is still yet to come.