In my review of PALA’s 2009 self-titled debut 7-inch, I wrote that the band did not have a “clearly defined sound,” and that their constantly shifting approach had a tendency to lessen the overall effect of what was otherwise a solid post-everything jaunt into heavy and atmospheric music. With this full-length release, PALA has clearly gotten their feet under them, refined their focus, and delivers on the promise of that early release.
While the band’s vision is now apparent, that doesn't mean they've abandoned their stylistic free-for-alls. The band still manages to hit a variety of different styles and sounds (usually in one song), but rather than sounding confusing or disjointed, it seems to be done with clear purpose. In any one track you’re likely to hear Cave In atmospherics, hardcore breakdowns, Circle Takes the Square screamo wanderings, Fugazi-inspired spazz-outs, and even straight-up metal. The vocals are similarly varied, with shouted hardcore, long-winded crooning, and even occasionally something that sounds like the Blood Brothers.
But with all the styles PALA embrace, the band is at its best when it’s just rocking out, like in the song-closing breakdown of “Don’t You Ever Think You’re in Control”. That said, a heavy breakdown is always fueled by the tension that comes before, and it’s in those tension-building moments where the band injects most of its creativity.
Lyrically, there is a clear theme of alienation and disconnection running through this record. From “Phase In, Phase Out”: "I close my eyes and I disappear. You can’t see me, I’m so far from life and everything.” From “Inside Of”: "We live in visible light, unseen, our forms cast shadows, we live in visible light unseen, we are the spaces in between.” From a whole-album perspective, and taken in the context of the album title, We Don’t Exist, thematically the band has made a cohesive and very relatable statement.
As mentioned previously, the vocals are as varied as the music, but as an ingredient they are definitely PALA’s weakest attribute. The heavier hardcore-type vocals are solid and so is the Fugazi-esque shouting, but there is some very exposed out-of-tune singing, which is something I have a hard time dealing with. I don’t think most fans of this type of music will be bothered by it as it’s by no means terrible, but it is definitely there.
Overall, the constant creative searching the band employs can sometimes be taxing on the listener, but worth it in the end as there are moments on this record that are simply stunning. Fans of bands that take chances and follow their muse should definitely check out PALA.