Pallbearer – ‘Heartless’

By Jay Hampshire

Little Rock, Arkansas-based doom wizards Pallbearer caused quite a stir back in 2014 with the release of their second full length, ‘Foundations Of Burden’. Their blend of heavy doom riffing and gentler, more airy prog elements captured the attention of both critics and fans alike, and left both camps hungry for more. The wait is over. Their latest release, ‘Heartless’, is upon us, and channels their true core sound whilst pushing it ever further in new and interesting directions.

‘I Saw The End’ fades in with some satisfyingly ’80s, phased guitars, big drums ushering in a stuttering chug of a main riff, while guitar overlays soar overhead. What becomes abundantly clear, as the track progresses at a regal, unhurried pace, is that none of the sweeping grandeur has been lost from the band’s sound – if anything, it has been amplified. When Brett Campbell’s vocals glide in and hit wailing heights, it’s enough to set your hair on end. The song shifts into a creeping, muted guitar line slowly unfurling and stretching upwards, vocal harmonies pushing towards prog pastures, before things melt into a solid, galloping instrumental groove, shuddering drum fills and righteous dual guitar work.

‘Thorns’ is immediately a darker prospect. A sinister, climbing riff is pierced by ethereal guitar motes, coalescing into a strident, chugging drive. It’s dense stuff, tugging at you like the movement of a tide. Things abate, a gentle guitar echoing out as if from an abandoned ossuary, joined by a bright foreground guitar before moving into a funeral crawl bedecked by dreamy vocal layering. ‘Lie Of Survival’ is sombre, meditative, arguably one of the ‘doomier’ tracks on the album, its cathartic melancholy engaging with the true sense of the term. It’s perhaps less engaging than the previous tracks, the lyrics a tad rote and, despite its organic use of tempo changes, it doesn’t do much over its lengthy runtime.

‘Dancing In Madness’ kicks off with a sensual drum shuffle that’s slowly joined by lush, blooming guitar layers and a near perfect solo overlay, before the main riff comes in. Vocals echo from across the void, and a burly chug barges in, bulked out by shouted, multi layered vocals; a dour and intense run. This is suddenly dispelled by perhaps the most well recorded acoustic guitars we’ve heard in some time, so bright and present that it feels like they’re in the room with you. ‘Cruel Road’ cascades in with huge grinding chords and a psyched out guitar solo, slowly building into meaty palm muting, whisked away on a faster drive with near breathless vocals mirroring the rushing pace. A dizzying, phased solo ambushes from nowhere, a moment of glorious grit under Pallbearer’s expertly polished façade.

The title track ascends briefly on the back of some almost country-sounding guitar before the rest of the instrumentation ploughs to carry the riff. It’s a veritable labyrinth of twisting riffs that snake and coil around each other, before dropping into echoing motes and distant, breathy vocals. Building up with jarring guitars and an anxious, almost jazz-infused drum shuffle, it almost tears itself apart with focussed chugging. ‘A Plea For Understanding’ opens with the bright, tolling tone we know all too well from the four piece, trippy and gentle. Harder riffs come in a procession, moving through brief moments of twinkling guitars like rising embers. The honest, clean vocals verge on the uplifting territory of the ballad, and their phrasing evokes Bowie in parts. It’s lilting and melodious, an infinite spiral of soft, looping guitar echoes.

It would be easy to say that Pallbearer simply took the formula they executed so well with ‘Foundations Of Burden’ and distilled the more progressive and grandiose elements from it. This albums soars with drama as much as it swells with riffs, and frequently eschews the trappings of ‘metal’ altogether to embrace the airy lightness of prog rock. What Pallbearer have done, more importantly, is create an album of musical importance, of aching beauty and purifying melancholy, something to appeal to the discerning listener, regardless of genre preference. This record will cement their place not just in the pantheon of contemporary doom beatification, but in the annals of metal divinity.

JAY HAMPSHIRE

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