Novembers Doom's lyrical landscapes are really, really scary: filled with haunted characters, tormented spirits, and, worst of all, scarecrows! Oh, and their musical backdrops are of course quiet apropos to such chilling storytelling, as well — although career maturity has seen the doleful Chicago natives using ever less cheap shock tactics and gimmicky gothic atmospherics (like, say, guest female vocalists) to cover up any songwriting deficiencies. The results can be heard in 2005's slowly seductive The Pale Haunt Departure, which delves in altogether more subtle dynamic contrasts for its borderline progressive death metal (think Opeth, but not quite as epic), with harmonic power chords, gentle acoustic breakdowns, and the occasional clean vocal lines plotting to achieve a more fluid emotional cadence. The album also shows vocalist Paul Kuhr's oft-impenetrable poetry exchanging fantasy for real-life subjects, more often than not. New odes to negativity like "The Dead Leaf Echo" (where the narrator wallows in his failures) and "Swallowed by the Moon" (describing a dying father's fears for the child he leaves behind, too young to remember him) clearly afford deeper layers to scrutiny in their lyrics. And in the wholly atypical glimmer of hope "Autumn Reflection," Novembers Doom counter the grain of a career-long melancholy by joyfully describing the joys of fatherhood! Still, manic depressives should not panic, as additional numbers like the driving "Dark World Burden" and the deathly maelstrom of the title track plead their musical cases with reliably downcast forcefulness — oh yeah, and those scarecrows, of course. And finally, in the closing "Collapse of the Fallen Throe," the band revisits its doom/death roots with a positively majestic riff to go with a nightmarish set of words — all very metal. In sum, The Pale Haunt Departure breaks much needed new ground for Novembers Doom, who were in danger of sounding too derivative of other artists, of late.