Bleak worldview informs self-titled debut, now on vinyl
Pale Grey Lore's self-titled debut is a bleak affair befitting the band's name. Throughout, singer/guitarist Michael Miller packs his lyrics with references to a creeping, unshakable and largely unnamed dread. “We are on a sinking ship,” he sings cryptically on the album-closing “Grave Future,” a darkly melodic slice of guitar rock on which he confronts the future with typical unease.
“There's always the fear something worse is coming down the pike. I'm not devoid of hope, but my mind tends to go to the worst-case scenario,” said Miller, who joins his bandmates for a vinyl release show at Spacebar on Friday, Dec. 1. “A lot of the themes on the record, I try to make them abstract, but some of them are personal, and some of them are dealing with anxiety and depression and feelings of isolation and loss of control in a society where technology is as it is and everybody has a personal brand. … All of those things were floating in the ether, but it's intentionally something that is pregnant with possible interpretations.”
While album recording sessions took place in a Hilliard home studio in December 2015, the lyrical uncertainty can be traced to the 2009 financial meltdown, which led Miller, who was studying at Ohio State University at the time, to briefly reconsider his career path.
“I went into an existential crisis thinking, ‘Should I even finish school?' Job prospects for academics were bad even before the meltdown. Afterwards, it took a nosedive and things looked even worse,” he said. “I didn't know what was going on in the future, and there was a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, and some of that is channeled into the darkness on the record.”
Musically, however, Pale Grey Lore reaches back even further in time, drawing inspiration from 1960s and '70s metal, garage, psychedelia and proto-punk, among other genres. The band also inherits a deeply melodic sensibility from the Beatles records Miller absorbed via his father's extensive LP collection. Witness “Life in the Hive,” a song that marries big, crunchy guitar riffs to Miller's ear-catching vocals, which navigate the swell as dexterously as a surfer riding an outsized wave.
“We wanted to infuse heavy music and fuzzed-out stuff with melodic vocals and harmonies,” said Miller, who's joined in the band by his drummer brother, Adam, bassist Donovan Johnson and guitarist Xander Roseberry.
Michigan natives Michael and Adam formed Pale Grey Lore as a sludgy, doom-ridden, bass-and-drums duo in 2009, though the two quickly found the setup limiting. “At a certain point when we started demoing things, I started to think, ‘Man, there'd be a lot more possibility if there was guitar here,'” Michael said.
And while some of the residual sludge remains, the band's sound has deepened and brightened as its lineup has expanded. Miller's outlook, however, remains almost universally dark, with a new album starting to take shape informed by the current social and political climate. “We're back to that era of greed is good and making a big spectacle of everything gaudy and showy, and these were things I always thought of as icky,” he said.
It's not all bad, of course. Michael married in 2010, and some of that hope bleeds into tracks such as “She Radiates.” Plus, Pale Grey Lore's debut is finally surfacing on vinyl more than a year after its digital release, completing a long-held goal for the musician.
“It was so cool to be like, ‘Holy crap, that's a vinyl LP with our music on it, and it's playing through the speakers,'” Miller said of his first experience listening to a test pressing (the album is being released via Oak Island Records). “The whole idea of the album as a format has always been something I've had as a goal or a standard or a vision. … Making a [vinyl] record is something I've always wanted to do.”