LIVE: Pallbearer @ The Underworld, London

By Glen Bushell

To call Pallbearer a ‘cult sensation’ may be a stretch of the imagination, but they aren’t far off. After the release of their 2014 album, ‘Foundations of Burden’, it amassed them a devoted following among the metal underground. Blending classic doom metal with sweeping hooks and melodic vocals, their sound resonated with a wider audience. This year saw the Arkansas band unveil their magnum opus, ‘Heartless’. With it, they ventured further into progressive rock territory, while retaining the visceral anger and emotion of their previous work.

Tonight’s show marks Pallbearer first visit to London in nearly two years, and given they are armed with a new album, The Underworld is rife with the anticipation that has been building in the run up to tonight’s show. The excitement of watching the expansive compositions that make up ‘Heartless’ come to life has been a talking point among musos on social media, some who will be witnessing Pallbearer live for the first time.

Within a matter of seconds, the pulverising opening riff of ‘Thorns’ shakes the floor of The Underworld. The dual guitar attack of Brett Campbell and Devin Holt veers between bottom-end walls of distortion and up-tempo shifts, with subtle melody weaving each section together. Pallbearer also have an air-tight rhythm section in Joseph Rowland and Mark Lierly, locking into the monolithic groove of ‘I Saw The End’ and ‘A Plea For Understanding’.

As expected, the bulk of tonight’s set is lifted from ‘Heartless’, and while it would be a detriment to some artists to put their fans through that much new material, it feels natural that Pallbearer do so. ‘Heartless’ was made to be heard live. It is as sonically punishing as it beautiful in the confines of such as small venue, and Campbell’s vocals on ‘Dancing In Madness’ are note perfect as they soar from the stage. While it makes the stage look somewhat busy with less freedom of movement, the addition of synths into their sound add an extra layer to their euphoric majesty.

Pallbearer do still dip their toes into their first two records, though. ‘Foreigner’ revisits the brute force of their doom influence, while ‘Worlds Apart’ shows their first steps into progressive rock. It is, as expected, ‘The Ghost I Used To Be’ which triggers a spine tingling, almost tear-jerking reaction. It is the bridge between the where Pallbearer were then, and the grandeur displayed on ‘Heartless’.

While Pallbearer still look at home in small venues, it is clear their sound is designed for bigger stages. They are almost too decadent for the toilet circuit now, and their music, particularly that of ‘Heartless’, could connect with listeners on a much broader scale. It’s only a matter of time before it does, and based on tonight’s performance, Pallbearer could well be one of the next classic rock bands.