The Fourth Seal marks a competent return for sludge veterans Pale Horseman that showcases the band’s ability, but unfortunately never shows anything outside of their fairly limited comfort zone. The band is able to craft a solid foundation with their thick, hateful sound and they do so right from the start, but they never build on it. The music doesn’t seem to go anywhere or work towards invoking a particular feeling, it’s almost as if it just… is. Genres like funeral doom and sludge tend to be difficult to work inside of without sounding uninspired because they often work best as a slow burn. However, it’s crucial for a sludge band (such as Pale Horseman) to find that sweet spot with oppressive, atmospheric repetition rather than dull, annoying repetition. The Fourth Seal leans far closer to the latter.
There are some more-than-decent riffs to be heard across the whole album, but they’re similar enough that their mere juxtaposition with each other renders the majority of the songs sterile. There are also some blatantly bland riffs, and while filler riffing is nothing unusual, it seems like even the completely uninspired and boring riffs get equal representation. In a lot cases, problems like this could be fixed by simply shortening the album or cutting out some weak tracks, but I don’t think that a single track on The Fourth Seal can stand on its own, except maybe ‘Bereavement.’ The album doesn’t offer anything interesting and is overall a tedious listen.
The vocals don’t offer any redemption, either. The style employed is very much a hardcore-influenced one, similar to bands like Crowbar and Superjoint Ritual. The shouting is damn near completely devoid of character and while it’s not grating to listen to, most of the music would have the same quality without any vocals at all. That being said, it does seem that the shouting indirectly hurts the songwriting; all of the instruments go into auto-pilot once the vocals come in. There are some great solos and instrumental bits, but everything from the guitar to the drums falls apart as if the vocals would be interesting enough to carry that weight.
That’s really the biggest disappointment of the whole album – if you pay attention, Pale Horseman is musically competent in pretty much every area except for songwriting. The Fourth Seal is a victim of sloppy songwriting, and while that problem is simple, the effects are detrimental to the final product. Pale Horseman has what it takes to make a good full-length, they just haven’t utilized it properly yet.
The Fourth Seal is now available through Pale Horseman’s Bandcamp page.