Pallbearer expands their sound
“Heartless” builds upon doom metal with ‘70s prog and accessible structures. | Maxwell Heilman/THE CHIMES
After capturing the hearts of fans with two LPs, an EP and a demo of stellar doom metal releases, Little Rock’s Pallbearer ups their songwriting chops and releases “Heartless” — the heaviest throwback prog-rock album of the decade.
Pallbearer has gained much acclaim for their take on metal’s slowest and most weighty genre, with 2012’s “Sorrow and Extinction” cracking Pitchfork’s top 40 list of that year and 2014’s “Foundations of Burden” peaking at 90th place in Billboard’s top 200 albums. Both of these albums remained within the confines of lumbering riffs, morose singing and sluggish drumming, and “Heartless” maintains many doomy hallmarks as Pallbearer ornates their sonic canvas with tasteful callbacks and innovative combinations.
“I Saw The End” opens the record with the prog-doom banger of a lifetime. Having stated the influence from legendary progers Boston in their new material, this track proves Pallbearer told the truth. Dynamic arrangements tie together odd meters, synchronized hits and evolving chord changes. “Thorns” carries this precedent forward with a skull-bashing riff and bounding drum tubs. The band showcases fluttering vintage clean guitar passages before a perfectly placed drum fill ushers distorted bliss back in.
The mournful guitar leads and tumbling modulations sported by “Lie of Survival” follow a similar path, as it evokes deep cuts off “In The Court of the Crimson King” as much as it does pre-Black Sabbath dirges. This trilogy of songs does a miraculous job of laying out the band’s heart behind “Heartless” — hoisting their crushing roots into astounding territories all over the musical map.
Longtime fans and doom enthusiasts need not worry about the four-piece selling out. Chest-pumping heaviness commingles with engrossing guitar solos, genius dynamic switches and tasteful flash. The first of the two most expansive tracks, “Dancing in Madness” takes its time before opening the floodgate of riffage. Delicate drum patterns and fluttering guitar lines give the song a full spectrum of color and texture, which ultimately make the cumulative seismic guitar feel earned. Pallbearer no longer wades through a sea of ambience in search of glacial chords, writing beautifully developed songs with startling aggression as just one ingredient.
a masterful crossover record
Lyrically, “Heartless” deals with apocalyptic prophecies and existential turmoil, but they maintain a call to perseverance where their contemporaries wallow in amorphous despair. While tracks like “Cruel Road” lament the hardships of life and one’s struggle to achieve as things take a turn for the worst, an undercurrent of hope for a turnaround before the end remains intact. Said track also has the fastest tempos out of any song of the band’s career, accentuating a general increase in propulsive rhythmic and melodic structures within the band, but a thunderous chug-fest gives the track a devastating signoff. The beauty of “Heartless” becomes Pallbearer’s ability to write compelling songs, not how they kill time before the “money riff” hits.
The title track’s acoustic guitar arpeggios reminiscent of “Foreigner” off of “Sorrow and Extinction,” before the full band kickstarts the tempo. The track’s melodic and harmonic structure brings the epics of the proto-prog giants, weaving in and out a tear-jerking solo, eerie ambience and colossal sludge without missing a beat.
The spellbinding closer of the album, “A Plea For Understanding” also clocks in the longest and solidifies itself as the most overtly doomy track. Its abysmal drones and plodding drums provide the backbeat for the record’s most astounding vocal performance. Brett Campbell’s pipes reach incredible heights throughout “Heartless,” but his heartbreaking laments at the end leave a singular impression as gargantuan chords and sorrowful serenades wrap up this masterpiece.
“My searching heart cries out for this, this thing I can’t grasp, a love somewhere within,” howls Campbell in the final chorus, providing a perfect summary of this album's effect. For all of its explorations, “Heartless” still fits snugly within Pallbearer’s cocoon of empathic sadness and introspection. Pallbearer has released their best album yet — a masterful crossover record for fans of solid rock music.