Is there such a thing as a universal archetype of a genre? A band that perfectly embodies everything you expect from, say, melodic death metal or power metal, and nothing else? After all, many bands mix in at least some influence from other genres in an attempt to keep things fresh and not everyone has the exact same view of what such a default state should look like. Stoner metal, on the other hand, often seems bent on conforming to a template, perhaps more so than any other of metal’s subgenres. All you need is a bunch of catchy, straightforward riffs, generally played at mid-pace, with a good measure of fuzz and with a dusting of psychedelic interludes and solos, and clean, ’70s style vocals on top, and you got yourself a stoner metal album. Pale Grey Lore is such a band, their every element aligning with the archetype wholesale. So if you’re diving into Eschatology, be aware: you get pretty much exactly what you’re expecting.
The songwriting is pretty much exactly what you’re expecting. Bouncy, energetic riffs gallop across a desert plain, a whiff of mescaline bringing some color into the dreams that ensue. Its closest spiritual brethren are (obviously) Kyuss and (slightly less obviously) Queens of the Stone Age. Eschatology runs the gamut of stoner, from the light-footed “Greed Springs Eternal” and “Undermined” to the doom-laden dirgery of “Void-Cursed” and “Before the Fall,” and the dreamy psychedelic balladry of “Waiting for the Dawn.” The riffs are the star of the album, instantly latching onto your brainfolds and holding on tight, and the amount of variety helps each song remain distinctive.
The flaws are pretty much exactly what you’re expecting. Though the hooks are hooky and the record is brimming with spirit, the material is all too common and there is not much to set the record apart from any of its peers. It’s an ongoing problem with stoner metal specifically, as it has an aesthetic that seems to invite less wriggling room than most. Sure, every now and then you run into an Elder or similar more progressive, forward-thinking stoner bands, but by and large, there’s a lot of homogeneities and Pale Grey Lore are more than happy to conform to the template exactly. This includes the chief flaw of most of their peers; while not bad by any stretch, the vocals aren’t exactly stellar. Their range is on the limited side, the timbre thin, the inflection a slightly whiny nasality. There’s enough emotion in them to overcome some of these flaws, but they are the weakest link nonetheless.
The production is pretty much exactly what you’re expecting. Whereas some of its neighboring styles like doom and sludge have a tendency to crush the production to a pulp, stoner leans closer to its direct inspirations from the 70s and as such usually employs a mastering style that is more dynamic and leaves more breathing room. Such is the case with Eschatology as well. The guitars have a classic fuzz that lends a bit more heaviness to the otherwise reasonably lightweight of the record. The mix is excellent as well, with the guitars upfront rather than the vocals, and the natural-sounding drums getting a prominent place on the board. More girth on the bass wouldn’t have gone amiss, but that’s a matter of personal taste.
The conclusion is pretty much exactly what you’re expecting. Pale Grey Lore do everything by the big book of stoner metal, including its most common flaws. But within the context of their chosen genre, they do what they do well. The riffs are full of excellent hooks, there’s a good balance of heavy and psychedelic, and there’s audible passion in the performances. If you don’t commonly like stoner, you can walk by this one without any FOMO. If you do, there’s plenty to love on this little album. Eschatology won’t write a brand new chapter in the annals of stoner history, but for fans of the genre, it’s still a damn good time.