PICK OF THE WEEK: Pallbearer hit prog-fueled doom stride, create magic with excellent ‘Heartless’

Photo by Diana Leezadlo

Huge, calendar-marking metal releases are kind of things of the past, as the mainstream doesn’t understand fuck all about what’s going on here. Add to that, the number of huge bands that actually matter to people has been scaled back to mostly the really bad ones. And then there’s Pallbearer.

The Little Rock-based doom band has grown in profile little by little ever since the release of their genre-redefining debut “Sorrow and Extinction” in 2012, a record that reminded the world that, holy shit, this stuff could be sung instead of growled. Not only that, but the music was captivating and powerful, leaving you on the edge of your seat the entire listen. “Foundations of Burden” followed two years later and now, with Pallbearer arguably the most-talked-about band in underground metal comes their massive third album “Heartless.” Simply put, this is their finest hour (it’s literally one second short of one!), the place where all the solid building blocks they’ve laid down come together to create a gargantuan fortress no one can topple.

The band—vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell, guitarist/vocalist Devin Holt, bassist/vocalist Joseph Rowland, and drummer Mark Lierly—has grown in leaps and bounds, becoming strong players and songwriters. On this record, they even go beyond doom’s walls, layering in a dose of progressive rock and metal that melds perfectly with their melodic grit. This is one of the year’s most anticipated records by a ton of people (us included), and this thing over-delivers. It’s a tremendous piece of music that pushes this band’s trajectory upward and cements them once and for all as modern metal royalty.

The record kicks off sort of uncharacteristically with two shorter songs. Well, shorter for Pallbearer. “I Saw the End” is the 6:10 opener, and the guitars sort of fold into the thing out of nowhere. Strong riffs kick things into gear, as Campbell’s soaring vocals, which are just outstanding on this record, begin to push into focus. “Blacken the sky, can’t stand to see the sun,” he calls over the chorus, as the band travels peaks and valleys, tempo shifts, and burning playing that scorches over the end. “Thorns” is a burly 5:24, kicking off with a grittier feel that builds to a great chorus that swells in your chest. The bulk of this is so catchy, just bursting in your blood, while more stellar guitar work glimmers, and later the track trickles into quiet. Of course, there’s a burst from the other end, which delves into powerful singing and the harmonies among members adding dark beauty to the piece. “Lie of Survival” starts clean, with sorrowful leads pushing through and poking at your inner sadness, and the band staying on a mid-tempo path. The singing is strong and compelling, later going into reflective waters, where you’re allowed to chill for a bit, then heading into an immersive synth cloud before fading away. “Dancing in Madness” is the second-longest song at 11:48, spilling in with drums rumbling and the guitars entering a hazy, Pink Floyd-esque unfurling that’s stunning. The singing is spacey and echoey, playing tricks with your mind at times, and the music manages to be both elegant and psychedelic. The track toughens up toward the end, as the words are delivered forcefully, with calls of, “Unforgiveness thrives, we cannot survive!” rolling with force. The song wraps with an acoustic flourish before melodies bleed out.

“Cruel Road” is both punchy and spacious, and you certainly can feel that big prog influence pumping through the music. There’s a cool vocal tradeoff among members, with the line, “My sunken hopes are buried deep,” conveying the hurt. Later on, guitars shift to a different pace, as things get hypnotic and trudging, hitting hard and often, with more muscular vocals causing some unexpected bruising. The title cut is an 8:10 piece that starts with acoustic picking before it opens wide. The pace is pushy and churning, chewing away at muscle before going cold. From there, voices flutter in the air, getting crunchier and more aggressive as it builds. “There, it’s done, I’ve ended its dominion, blood red tyrant now overthrown,” Campbell calls, adding some of the record’s bloodier visuals. The power stays strong and forceful from there, finally sizzling out. Closer “A Plea for Understanding” is a show-stopper, a Black Sabbath-style ballad where the band isn’t afraid to show pain and vulnerability. The song takes some time to sink in its teeth, but once it does, the emotional caterwaul takes over. This is some of Campbell’s finest singing, especially over the chorus when he wails, “I just want to give to you, all that you have given to me.” It’s way more impactful than just reading it in writing. Once the soloing kicks in, it pulls in the same vocal melody from the chorus, adding a heart-splitting dynamic, and from there, the cut keeps wrenching at the veins, looking for drops of blood, with Campbell leveling, “Try to lose myself, but nothing ever changes, try to love myself, but nothing ever changes.” This song is an incredible statement, one most metal bands shy away from these days, and it’s a gigantic curtain drop on a great record.

There are bound to be some detractors—that’s the fucking internet for you—as Pallbearer further refine their sound, but if so, they’re missing the point. These guys are a scary-good machine, and “Heartless” is proof that the heavy metal album again can be a destination event, one that brings listeners the world over together to marvel over the majesty. This is the album that should push Pallbearer to newer and greater heights, and if that doesn’t happen, then maybe there’s no hope for us after all.

For more on the band, go here: http://pallbearerdoom.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com

For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

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