With 2014’s Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer defined a certain style of doom metal which beforehand had been mastered by very few other groups. The balance of tense, aggressive underlying menace and beautiful melancholy just seemed to be so well-penned on the band’s sophomore effort, and it really was a marker of just how far doom metal as a sub-genre had come this far into the 21st Century. The band have since developed this style even further, and as evident on this year’s Heartless, there are no limitations to what Pallbearer can come up with.
Opening with arguably one of the most sorrowful and evocative songs Pallbearer have collectively written to date in “I Saw the End”, it’s quite easy to see which direction the band are heading in. At first it may seem like an extension of what we heard on Foundations of Burden, but everything about the album opener seems that much more dramatic and lofty, and it’s really thanks to the stylistic vocal delivery that this tone is perfected. The song itself plays out with a mid-paced strum at the forefront, but later on develops this slight nod to proto-metal bands such as Uriah Heep and Mastodon’s Crack the Skye sound, such is the melancholy at work here. I could go on, but the album opener generally gives you a good idea of what the next hour will entail. It’s not just the sweeping grandeur of “Dancing in Madness” or closer “A Plea for Understanding” which make Pallbearer stand out here, but it does serve as a finely-tuned touch of finesse which, if ignored or eschewed, wouldn’t have been so beneficial as it is on the aforementioned songs.
Heartless really succeeds in its overall feeling of ambition. Most songs here tend to build within the first half, and then deliver a curveball which is more progressive in nature and adventurous in tone. For example, “I Saw the End” features a dramatic tension midway, leading to a selection of fluent albeit not self-indulgent solos, but its progressive manner, as said before, really does hint at subtle influences from three decades ago. Not to say that Pallbearer are wearng their hearts on their sleeve with Heartless, but it’s really clear which way they want to direct their core sound. Other songs however develop a different, more distinctive style. There’s the almost sludgy menace of “Thorns”, which echoes modern Alice in Chains at their most bitter, or perhaps if you’re after a faster, more engaging momentum, the galloping rhythms of “Cruel Road” will suit your taste. There’s even a hint at a hardcore-ish, punk-influenced style with “Cruel Road” too, where the vocals double up and take on a monstrous force which is almost bellowed rather than finely sung, echoing the band’s penchant for aggression when it is needed.
Pallbearer have clearly developed the style hinted at on Foundations of Burden in the right way: That is to say, they haven’t done a complete 180 and decided to force themselves down a musical path they didn’t need to. Instead, this soulful doom style which the band excel at so well is what is at the forefront of Heartless, including a versatile songwriting approach which mostly feels right and well-balanced as a result. Once again, Pallbearer have created one of the most enticing and interesting, if not particularly greatest, doom metal records of the year. IT may be more demanding of your patience, but the rewards are there for the taking.
Released: 24th March, 2017
- I Saw the End
- Lie of Survival
- Dancing in Madness
- Cruel Road
- A Plea for Understanding