I initially wrote off Pallbearer, and in particular, their first album, Sorrow and Extinction, as dull critical darling material. Second album Foundations of Burden made me shut my big yap, by means of conjuring that rarefied mood of being happy to be so sad. Let’s face it, by and large doom metal is far too cheery for its own good, and with lead single Thorns delivering on weepy melodies, I’m excited about the potential of new album Heartless to turn that smile upside down.
Three albums in, by now Pallbearer have a couple of calling cards; the rich layering of riffs and melodies, clean guitar breaks with a neo–classical feel, long songs that make light use of repetition through rapid development between sections, and Brett Campbells’ mellow, almost subdued, singing, with the intelligible lyrics being a corollary to this last point. The two guitars are used cleverly; when there’s space they’re often playing different lines (I Saw The End and Thorns both being excellent examples), and the number of quick switches into clean or acoustic guitars makes me wonder if there is a fan of classical music in Pallbearer, besides the David Gilmour influence most obviously displayed on Dancing in Madness and the stamp of …And Justice For All all over the aforementioned clean breaks. Bass guitarist Rowland is also no slouch, carving fills and runs into the thickness, second track Thorns being a particularly good example. This track is also actually quite fast, as are parts of Cruel Road, so what is it that indisputably still makes this doom? A large part of it is Campbell’s vocals and Joseph Rowland’s backing vocals, mournful, sometimes imploring, but mostly resigned. Pallbearer have moved beyond anger; this is thousand yard stare stuff. The opening lines of Lie of Survival, after two minutes of dust mote arpeggios and a Gilmour guitar line, are
All ours gods have fled
retreated to the sky
from there they watch us fall
beneath the building tide
The cover art shows a sea of people reaching out to a sleeping colossus, only for the back cover to show them fleeing from its approach. Recurring lyrical themes are mankind’s atavistic resort to violence, endless travelling, Armegeddon, and trying to let go of anger in order to survive aforementioned Armegeddon. If you have any friends (pause) who you think could do with a bit more sadness in their life, Heartless, being fairly accessible through its clean singing, is a great way to start dragging them down. I’d even go as far as to say the vocals on closing track A Plea For Understanding are more like something I’d expect to hear on an indie album.
For the first few listens I did wonder if this album flowed, or, rather, was a collection of very good songs, but with each listen the flow becomes stronger, more apparent. The odd use of synths are unnecessary; they’re utilised for atmosphere, but as the rest of the band already has this covered, don’t end up adding much.
Want to mellow the mood in this post–Black Sabbath age? Think that doom metal needs to get real? Want to get worked up about 60 plus minutes of intense sadness? Put on Heartless and turn that smile upside down.