Pallbearer is a metal band. Seeing as even in 2014 metal remains a genre generally dismissed by huge swathes of music critics, that alone might be enough to put off some people from paying any attention to the Arkansas quartet. Their music is not metal crossed with something else. It’s not designed to appeal to hipsters or people who don’t normally listen to metal music, but it just might do so anyways. Pallbearer makes slow, ominous doom metal, filled with enormous-sounding guitars that wring every ounce of impact from each note and chord. And it sounds absolutely magnificent, a towering wall of sound refreshingly free of irony or concessions to fashion, instead crafted with sincerity and no little skill.
Pallbearer has been here before with 2012’s superb debut album, Sorrow and Extinction (an album I got into a considerable time after compiling my albums of the year list), but Foundations Of Burden builds upon its predecessor in every way it needs to. Brett Campbell’s voice has grown more distinctive and stronger, although the increased presence of his fellow band members on vocals leads to some unexpectedly effective harmonies. An increased production budget is also evident. With new producer Billy Anderson on the decks, the guitars here sound crisper and heavier at the same time. A whole lot of work has gone into making this music sound as huge as possible.
Another thing that has improved on Pallbearer’s second album is their already impressive grasp of pacing. Most of these songs (other than an ambient three-minute piece) go past the ten-minute mark, but hold the attention anyway through a subtle, constant shifting of tone. On opener “Worlds Apart” a mid-song lull is deceptive, its twisting riff eventually building back up to a dynamic, strident sound before shuddering to a slower conclusion that recalls Sunn O))) in its depths.
The riffs just keep getting bigger as the album progresses. For most bands, “Worlds Apart” would be an Everest peak, the destination itself. It says something about Pallbearer’s ambitions that it is in fact a mere starting off point for the technical complexity of “Foundations.” On “Watcher In The Dark” and especially “The Ghost I Used To Be,” the band lifts off completely. This may be slow music but just try to listen to it without wanting to punch your fist in the air at some point in celebration of the sheer heroic sound of it all.
The latter of those two songs has enough individual movements to fill a decent-sized EP but without ever feeling disjointed. Instead, it is nimble, innovative, a gripping piece of work invested with feeling. And it is that last element that is perhaps the most important selling point of Pallbearer’s work. For all of the prog-influnced songwriting on display, this is no dry exercise in standard doom metal tropes. It is at times a moving and sparkling album.
So no, Pallbearer makes no concessions for a larger audience, but judging by the buzz around the band, which has been building since their demo releases, they may end up with one anyway. If that is to be the case, then the timing of Foundations Of Burden is perfect. It is an album that catapults the band to the top of their class in the metal genre (if they weren’t there already) and establishes them as a real one-off. This is a star-scraping triumph.
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