Monday, April 13, 2015

...enduring the pains of flesh: PENDULOUS - 'A Palpable Sense of Love & Loss'

Misery and woe—two of the most commonplace themes found in doom metal—are, conventionally speaking, so foundational that they are synonymous with the genre. In practice these emotions often fall toward the drearier end of the spectrum, but few bands are able to quantify the depths of sheer torment as successfully as Los Angeles, California’s doom quintet Pendulous. The band first introduced their downtempo brand of despair with 2013’s Mirrored Confessions EP, an album that effectively blended elements of funeral and death doom with a solid base of traditional doom metal embellished with occasional blackened atmospherics. With their aptly titled follow-up, A Palpable Sense of Love & Loss, Pendulous have further refined their sound and have, for better or worse, abandoned themselves (almost completely) to hopelessness.

The album art for A Palpable Sense of Love & Loss, perhaps more than any other release in recent memory, perfectly encapsulates the sonic misanthropy and bleak futility found on these recordings. The depiction of blindfolded lovers embracing on the first panel of a diptych—separated by a tear or rift—is juxtaposed with a second panel illustrating the female lover wandering off and leaving her significant other crawling on all fours, even more lost, and desperately grasping for her fleeting touch. The majority of the album is hopelessly preoccupied with the latter panel of the diptych—the loss—to the point of self-pity.

Sonically, the album is a slow burn of smoldering tunes that occasionally flicker and catch fire. When Pendulous are purely dialed into doom the music has a grandeur that few can match. The opening for “Pendant World,” one of the album’s strongest tracks, features the band at their most traditional and majestic, but also proves to be the album’s most dynamic track both musically and vocally. The grandiose opening eventually gives way to a jazzy bassline and gently squalling guitar, and E.R.M.’s vocals range from tortured night club singer to howling, inhuman protestations.

While “Pendant World” may be the album’s most dynamic track, “Hibernal Sun” stands as the album’s centerpiece and perhaps best demonstrates the band’s growth since the release of Mirrored Confessions. Post-rock atmospherics are successfully and beautifully layered over doom metal tempos and, again, E.R.M. delivers an engrossing vocal performance that, at times, is reminiscent of Peter Murphy. Notably, “Hibernal Sun” stands apart from the rest of the album in that it contains a much needed reprieve from the self-pity and despair with brief moments of fleeting beauty. A piano interlude, bass swells, and placid guitars bring the song gently to its conclusion.

A Palpable Sense of Love & Loss is, from start to finish, a predominantly gloomy affair bookended by tracks that feature spoken word poetry that could have easily been ripped from the pages of an adolescent’s journal. Pendulous have, without a doubt, succeeded in releasing an incredibly morose album—almost to a fault. While both “Shame” and “Memoirs” may thematically add to the album as a whole, they serve as minor distractions from some excellently crafted tracks.

(Originally published at Heathen Harvest Periodical, edited by Sage Weatherford)