Paleons are a band from Eugene, Oregon. What sort of band they are is a more complex question. That is because their dark and intense music exists outside of any particular genre. Regular readers will know that these are the bands that I like the most. The ones that you can’t quite pin down. The ones that plough their own very distinct furrow. The ones that you really have to think about when you listen to them. Paleons are all these things, and then fulfil further criteria of being heavy when they need to be, and pepper their music with melodies and meditative moments that challenge and inspire in equal measure.
As far as I can see ‘Hyperborean’ is Paleons’ third album and, to me, it is the sound of a band that are growing and moving forward. Here Mark Leahey Jr., the band’s founder and songwriter, has found a sweet spot that he has seriously exploited. Opening with ‘Moon Dragon’, a track that owes much of its provenance to post-rock Constellation bands. It has that lovely lilting melancholy to it, the sort of melody that requires no words to express its meaning as it builds towards a dramatic and slightly fractured conclusion.
Suitably settled in ‘The Circle and Eternity’ begins in a similar vein, but it isn’t long before Paleons explode out of this shell scattering sonic shrapnel out through the speakers. Elements of stoner and prog fight for the upper hand as we the listener begin to realise the ambition of this album. There’s heavy riffs pinging about like a wrecking ball in a solid granite pinball machine and then…bang on five minutes in…all hell breaks loose…wow…what a ride. This is a real blockbuster of a track as the rhythm section pounds out the beat and just keeps on changing up through the gears. I’m exhausted and we’re only half way through as the band let go again and again. I want it to stop…I don’t want it to stop…it stops! And that’s the thing, Paleons could have easily ground on to the end, but they come out of hyperdrive, change the whole tone of the proceedings and in the process create something far more interesting, ramping up again without going back to the same place.
Then it’s straight into ‘Wheel of Anguish’ with its solid guitar licks, but with a mariachi trumpet just far enough up in the mix to once again defy expectations, an additional layer which takes this album way above much of the sludgy run of the mill stoner rock. Same with ‘Sun at the Eastern Gate’ with its atmospheric violin arrangement standing out, at once a harking back to some classic Godspeed You! Black Emperor sounds but taking the idea to a different place. Not homage but much more of an interpretation of that sort of intense post rock and, again towards the end, taking the track to a completely different place. This album is so full of ideas…
After that ‘The Tree of Pansophia’ sees the album slowing down and taking stock. Initially, at least, there is more space to the music, a time to reflect and a time to breathe; and while there are moments of greater intensity this seems to be the track that provides a welcome respite from the vigour of this album. Paleons don’t always play fast but they never hang about on one moment. ‘Andromeda, Tomb of the Sun’ is different again with an increasingly fierce repeating beat that at times threatens to tip over the edge as the band thrash out what comes closest to being a psych number. Notice too how the violin is used sparingly but effectively.
With ‘Urizen’ we’re back to the Constellation bands for a freaky intro before heading off into something really folky and almost joyous as the gloom within the track lifts and you get a sense of the flourishing of previously stifled growth. It’s like a celebration at the end of a long quest as the trumpet sears triumphantly through the bucolic sonic patterns. In many ways this feels at odds with the rest of the album, far more open and optimistic…almost anthemic.
It is certainly a real contrast to return to the stoner intensity of ‘Quicksilver Snake’, a slab of solid rock that is as unyielding as it is cogent. A clear and definite end to an album that is full of surprises and one that you’re never quite sure which way Paleons will go next.
I really took to this album on my first listen because I could see that this was something that had been thought through and executed with a laser guided eloquence that marks it out as something both different and interesting. ‘Hyperborean’ is a set of tracks that sing to you even though there is no vocal, and that’s a bit weird because I didn’t really realise that until the end. Sure much of the music I listen to is instrumental but this has something intrinsic within it that gave me the feeling that there was, and each time I’ve listened to it I’ve come away with something quite tangible. That on its own is reason to put it on again.
‘Hyperborean’ is available on CD and download at the Paleons’ bandcamp page here. A vinyl edition is currently being pressed and is available to pre-order from the same place.