Pallbearer have been one of the great innovators of the modern day US doom scene creating painstakingly poignant canvases on which they express their inner sorrow with a wonderful array of sonic strokes.
While doom is a broad label that fits these Arkansas angst merchants, Pallbearer’s interpretation of the genre is significantly removed from the likes of US forefathers such as Saint Vitus.
While Pallbearer will occasionally veer off in a heavier direction their general approach is to move you through the sheer transcendental magic of their instrumental amalgamations. On top of this singer Brett Campbell is no muffled growler. He is in fact an incredibly moving singer for whom on every note he seems to be teetering on the very brink of human life.
Heartless is Pallbearer’s third full length album, following on from 2012 full length debut release Sorrow and Extinction with Foundations of Burden two years after that heralded as Album of the Year by the respected US metal magazine Decibel.
Pallbearer are the kind of band that a blind man could single out in an identity parade, and that is not intended as a slur or sleight in any way. It’s just that their strained sound is so distinctive that within seconds of opening number ‘I Saw The End’ you just know you couldn’t be listening to anyone other than the quartet.from Little Rock.
While Pallbearer have so far built songs around more ethereal areas, on Heartless it’s a case, quite literally, of reality dooms. The songs within their third album bleed with raw emotion but this time the heartstrings are pulled by more tangible torments, life and loss, rather than more cosmic dimensions.
This album consists of seven songs, two of which comfortably break through the 10-minute mark, the entire album lasting one hour and one minute. In many ways it’s an exhaustive listen as the songs are so draining on an emotional level that you cannot help but form an attachment.
‘Thorns,’ as its title suggests, has a few more prickly phases but as always with Pallbearer you get that wonderful song construction although this one enjoys some spirited prog passages and has a slightly darker tone.
By the time we reach third track ‘Lie of Survival’ Pallbearer are starting to settle into their distinctive slow marches which somehow feel as though they’re shouting from the rooftops when in reality the tempo is funereal and the mood morose. Campbell is close to his fragile best here, his voice exposing the vulnerabilities and fears that lie at the very epicenter of all Pallbearer’s best work, as the rhythms start to feed off each other, to forge a restless and yet foreboding ambience.
The prog atmosphere extends on to the elongated excellence of ‘Dancing in Madness’ which carries echoes of ‘Foreigner’ from Pallbearer’s debut album. The misery levels during the massive instrumental opening are bordering on suffocating and the eventual presence of Campbell’s tortured tones simply amplifies the angst further still. This is music to bury the dead, faltering steps resonating with grief that is as palpable as if you were holding it in your own hands.
‘Cruel Road’ isn’t quite your usual Pallbearer material. It’s pacier than we’ve come to expect and the hollered chorus certainly veers away from the usual introspective solemn sermons. Lines are blurred further still when the guitars mesh into a moment or two of frenzied riffage, but as ‘Cruel Road’ edges towards the final turn a juggernaut groove kicks in to steer us towards a pummelling climax.
The curtain is slowly drawn across what by now we can regard down as another majestic release from Pallbearer with ‘A Plea for Understanding’ in which sledgehammer beats fall liked felled oak trees as the dark clouds gather overhead. This 13 minute epic just teeters with instrumental grooves for five minutes until Campbell arrives to begin what could almost at times be described as a lullaby were it not for the riveting expanse of riffage and the occasional switch to more visceral vocal explosions.
Heartless is a timeless release that will command repeated returns. Anyone with a pulse cannot fail to feel their knees weaken at times, such is the depth and expanse of sorrow that seep from Pallbearer’s pores.