LIVE: Pallbearer / Tuskar @ The Underworld, Camden

By Jay Hampshire

Success is a funny thing, especially in the music world. Some bands explode in popularity overnight, then burn out as quickly as they came. Some take years to establish a fan base, their recognition only coming long after they’ve split. Little Rock’s Pallbearer are a rarity in that their star has steadily, inexorably continued to rise over a decade of hard graft, winning increased critical acclaim and fan hearts with each new release.

Opening things up tonight are Guildford based noisesome twosome, Tuskar, a band on the cusp of serious success if they continue with this level of performance. Their swollen, heaving grooves grind like granite on granite, sounding unfeasibly massive for a duo. Tyler Hodges is the spirit animal of every overly aggressive air drummer, windmilling into his kit with a pummelling, tribal onslaught that we’re surprised doesn’t flatten the first few rows of the audience. Toms, cymbals and stands attempt to escape the punishment like wounded animals, but Hodges batters them back into submission.

Meanwhile, Tom Dimmock chugs out slab-like riffs and dazzles with spider fingered turns of speed. Cuts from debut EP ‘Arianrhod’ blend hammer-blow riffing with more melodic moments of calm, psyched out noodling. However, it’s hard to keep the dynamics restrained when your drum sound is like a brutalist concrete car park undergoing a controlled demolition. They, rightfully, get a huge reception, surely having won a swathe of new fans judging by the heads banging from front of crowd to back. Watch this space, because Tuskar are young, hungry, and will eat your band.

As raw and jagged as the opening act are, Pallbearer are a polished and professional gemstone. Taking to the stage calmly yet confidently, even from their brief sound check the de-mulleted Brett Campbell’s soaring voice gives you chills. Kicking off with the lumbering swell of ‘Watcher In the Dark’, they easily hit their stride, bassist Joseph D. Rowland takes a moment to let us know that the quartet are “truly fucking chuffed to be back here”.

Newest track ‘Dropout’ makes Campbell’s vocals the focal point of the band’s USP, but it’s the majestic conjuration of ‘Worlds Apart’ that gets the biggest reaction of the night. The set list flits through their mighty back catalogue, ‘Foreigner’ from their 2012 debut ‘Sorrow and Extinction’ evoking an approving roar from the diehard fans, ‘Thorns’ and ‘Dancing In Madness’ from 2017’s sprawling ‘Heartless’ wander between sultry smoothness, multi-layered prog-tinged meandering and breathless, racing riffs. Pallbearer can still flex their densest muscles when necessary, locking in for some strident chugging before opening out into airy lushness and spiralling harmonies. There’s a sense of constant movement to their work, guitars and vocals always ascending as the rhythm section throb and shuffles beneath. Even when all four members seem to be in their own instrumental world, there’s a unity about their performance.

While you’d expect a wealth of combined influence and lofty musicianship, what you might not expect is how moving Pallbearer’s set is. They dance on the knife edge of triumphant positivity and wistful melancholia at all times, embracing vulnerability as well as the traditional doom staples of rage and despair. This is perhaps the thing that sets them apart from their wealth of peers. Music journalists and commentators ask, nearly constantly, when and where the ‘next Metallica’ might arise to fill the void of acts who can unite a crowd, no matter its size, under the banner of heavy music. Pallbearer are here. And they’re waiting.