I’m a fan of most things slow and heavy, but gritty, bluesy biker doom is especially my jam. Perhaps that’s the byproduct of a misspent youth hanging out with an older brother who was an outlaw biker and frequently on the wrong side of law. Maybe it comes from too much time in sketchy bars where you were as likely to get punched as catch a good buzz. Wherever the affection comes from, it’s part of my DNA. Pennsylvania’s three-piece doom crew Pale Divine share my appreciation for this roughneck sub-genre, crafting burly doom rock in the image of peak Corrosion of Conformity, The Obsessed and Wino-era Saint Vitus. Their eponymous fifth album is another testament to the gospel of brass knuckles, with a blue-collar attitude and one foot in the gutter. It’s music designed for a night of drinking cheap beer and well-grade whiskey among sketchy company, with one eye on the door and the other on your wallet. Don’t start none, won’t be none.
The album puts a steel-toed boot forward with opener “Spinning Wheel” and its heavy The Obsessed vibe, especially referencing their The Church Within album. It serves up a heaping helping of fat, bluesy riffs and rough-edged vocals that sit between those of Wino and Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity). This is the kind of macho doom that bristles with attitude and swagger but generally remains laid back. It’s also quite accessible with a big, meaty chorus and first-rate guitar-work by Greg Diener which balance free form jams with hard-driving riffs. This is the blueprint Pale Divine follows throughout the album. Their sound references Black Sabbath quite plainly at times but they cleave closer to American doom acts like Pentagram and Saint Vitus. “So Low” mines all those precursors equally, mixing Iommi/Butler-esque guitar/bass interplay with a pugnacious, free swinging attitude that almost approaches Clutch at times.
Pale Divine is a pretty consistent spin, and it gets better as it motors along, with the best cuts packed on the back-end. “Shades of Blue” is the album’s longest track and it smokes from start to finish, pulsating with a heavy V-era Saint Vitus vibe and a funky throwback charm. The bass-forward sound is accentuated perfectly by fuzzy, groove-tastic guitar lines and the whole thing feels soaked in gin, feedback and axle grease. Diener’s fret-work is hard to resist, full of 70s rock flair but restrained enough to keep the listener hanging on every boozy, bluesy note. In this his playing has a lot in common with Victor Griffin (Pentagram, Place of Skulls), and much of the material here could fit with his Place of Skulls and In-Graved projects. Both penultimate track “Silver Tongues” and closer “Ship of Fools” are tasty doom tunes, the former a straight ahead bulldozer Wino himself would be proud to pen, the latter a languid, soothing rocker with a slight southern twang that feels just right. While a highly listenable spin, Pale Divine has a few cuts that sound slightly less inspired. “Chemical Decline” is good but a wee step down from the songs its bracketed by, and “Curse the Shadows” is a bit dull. Neither requires skipping though, and the 46 minute runtime doesn’t feel bloated.
This is a tight, talented trio, and the way Diener’s riffs interlock with Ron McGinnis’ bass is outstanding, playing off one another with each getting plenty of time to shine. While their style of doom is hardly new or innovative, the band is talented enough to make it feel fresh and vibrant. Diener’s guitar-work in particular shines brightly without ever being flashy or excessive. His laid back grooving and jamming does more to embellish the songs than any 1000-note Yngwie-esque noodle attack ever could. Vocally he’s quite solid as well, sounding rough enough for the material, but not one dimensional. His voice sounds lived in and just weathered enough to convey stoic wisdom.
Pale Divine is a good, and almost a very good slab of biker doom rock, and it grows on me with every spin. It got me searching for their previous releases, and now that Pale Divine is firmly on my radar, I look forward to toasting their health in some unsavory environs over the coming years. Here’s rotgut in your eye, you sons of bitches.