EDITOR’S NOTE: for nearly two years, the Arkansas melodic doom quartet Pallbearer has been among my wife’s absolute favorite bands. I know she’d been eagerly snapping up every available bit of information leading up to the release of their second album; now that it’s been released, we listened to it together, and she had some strong reactions and opinions — so I asked whether she wanted to write something about it. So here is her review of Foundations of Burden.
Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore Records, 19 August 2014)
reviewed by Mrs. Valley of Steel
I first heard Pallbearer in December of 2012 on accident. I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a video that someone had posted, which I thought was something else. I clicked on it, I listened and I had no idea what I was in for ultimately. I have to admit, I felt an immediate kinship to this music. For much of my life, I have felt an attachment to a darker side of my personality; I often embrace being melancholy and don’t always see it as the burden that some people do with those types of emotions. Pallbearer definitely tapped into that for me. I felt instantaneously connected to each riff and sludgy chord. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, this band is mainly responsible for so much of the music I have discovered in this journey with my husband over the past three years. It’s clearly felt personal to me and I am sure, with all the recent hype, that I am not the only one who enjoys dwelling in the despair.
I think what Pallbearer does best is tap into that familiar sweeping guitar tone and mucky riffs that those of us who had dads who were into The Alan Parsons Project, Yes, or — of course — Black Sabbath innately identify with. I revert back to that excitement of hearing my dad’s records in third grade for the first time. Like all good bands, they use these influences as refences that remind us of things that we are comfortable with, but you will never find yourself referring to them as a carbon copy of any particular band.
Their debut release Sorrow and Extinction is one album that has never failed to bring me down (in a good way) in the almost one-and-a-half years that I’ve owned it. Their songs could be easily taken at face value for sludgy and rough on the surface, then something happens on the second, third, or fourth listen where subtle nuances appear and you hear the effort behind the sound, inevitably sealing the relationship between you and the band.
Foundations of Burden, out on Profound Lore Records last Tuesday, does not shy away from any of that familiar sound that the band is known for. The band opens the album with “Worlds Apart,” and immediately you know you are right back on planet sulk. At times the track has an almost Gregorian tone which draws you in and prepares you for the wave of melancholy that is about to surround you. Right away you’re aware of just how incredible this album is going to sound. I read recently that producer/engineer Billy Anderson (whose credits include Agalloch and Undersmile, as well as classics by Sleep, High on Fire, and many others) said that this is the most guitar tracks he’s ever used with a band — and it shows. The album just shines in overall depth and sheer ability to fill a space. Hearing it for the first time I couldn’t wait to witness it live, which we will be lucky enough to do on October 23rd in Cleveland (with the amazingly talented — and VOS favorites — Vattnet Viskar, and Tombs) at the Grog Shop.
Foundations is the next logical step for this band; the twin guitars are emphasized, while not shying away from the crawling-through-quicksand riffs. Brett Campbell‘s vocals are accented and not lost in any of the mix which is something that I felt like was a small (very small) downfall of the last release. It feels much more like a cohesive effort this time around. A highlight of this is track number four, “The Ghost I Used to Be,” which turned out to be my favorite on the album. The track includes a thrilling change of pace around the three-and-a-half-minute mark, shifting all of a sudden to inject an up-swing of energy into the procession, made all the more meaningful by its quick appearance. At about 6:10, you hit the apex of
Brett‘s the vocals on this album which, upon hearing it the first time, gave me chills and I very nearly cried.
This burden of regret
Kindling to ignite
And a necessary end
To living in a lie
So when fires all burn cold
Leave behind a glowing husk
The ghost that I become again
Glides back into the dusk
And with that, you have attended the church that is Pallbearer. If this speaks to you… you just get it.
On “Ashes,” the fifth and shortest song on the album clocking in at only 3:19, the guys remind us that doom metal can be anything we want it to be and it doesn’t have to follow any rules. It’s almost bordering on doomy electronic music at times; it’s gorgeously sad and no one is upset about that. Just like we need it to be. No more, no less. It’s a perfect lead-in to the sixth and final track, the exit music “Vanished,” which is exactly what this song feels like in its ominous atmosphere. You feel almost calm as you give in and enjoy being swallowed by the crushing haze of tomorrow.
So much of Sorrow and Extinction was concerned with death, anger, sadness, grieving, and loss — things I have been struggling with myself since the death of my mother almost eleven years ago. Maybe that is what draws me in and makes me feel so personally intertwined to these four guys whom I’ve never met. This album begs you to put your burden of sadness into the vast void of music that is there and give in. On this sophomore release it feels like Pallbearer and I are both ready to move on to a place of reflection and forgiveness.
Foundations of Burden is streaming at Bandcamp, and you can buy the CD or MP3 versions here.
* * * * * * *