Pallbearer are fantastic and Foundations Of Burden is an absolute delight from start to finish. As the current wave of doom bands nears critical mass, this is exactly what the movement needs; a dynamic new offering that re-writes the template, re-invigorating the subgenre.
Doom is doing pretty well for itself in the past few years, but in the slew of excellent new releases there are a few fiercely brilliant new offerings this year in particular. This is an especially fantastic example, a wonderful take on the gloom and introspection of doom metal. The obvious comparison is to Yob, but there’s something to be said for Pallbearer’s more delicate approach. Yob’s feels go to ten but Pallbearer are a different beast, a bit sadder and more organic. Comparing their heaviness is self-defeating; these are two of the heaviest bands ever and there’s so much to their sound that limiting an analysis to their sheer weight does both acts a great disservice.
Pallbearer’s sound could be simplified as a nuanced take on epic doom but with vocals pitched higher than average and a focus on melody to convey the emotional weight of the songs. An obvious comparison is Candlemass but without the overwhelming derp. Foundations comes to rest between being unmistakably doom and moving firmly out of the bracket that the genre has written itself into. The vocals are acrobatic, swooping and glorious, sitting comfortably in an unusually high register for the genre, matching the guitars as they weave around the compositions. The drums are delicate, engaging with the dynamics of the pieces; the whole rhythm section is placed extremely well and manages to be well-voiced in an environment where they could get away with doing less. However, it’s the vocals that mark the album as spectacular, elevating it from excellent doom to not far off a religious experience.
Pallbearer are tinkerers. Foundations chirps and crests magnificently, in the way that symphonic metal would like to do but often falls short, in ways that black metal tries to evoke. Doom almost shouldn’t do this; these are the wrong feels! Pallbearer are meddling with powers very old and getting very successful results; none more clear than towards the last quarter of the album where the whole thing grows to a dramatic finale at the same time treating us to some poignant moments, Ashes being a particularly melancholic treat. A true mark of success for an album is when the first reaction on repeated listens is to play the whole thing from start to finish; playing it out-of-sequence feels like a slight towards the band.
It’s certainly worth nothing the creative break that Pallbearer have taken from their contemporaries. A lot of bands tend to progress by adopting ’70s prog rock flavours, and whilst I will put money on at least one member of this band owning a first pressing of Lark’s Tongues, it doesn’t seem like they’ve gone down this route. I can understand why so many bands with full and immediate access to not only a definitive timeline of rock history but also the entire back catalogue of these bands would follow this progression. Sadly it gets linear very quickly and the progressive mindset is no longer – well, particularly progressive. Here we see a different twist, a separate path for doom to take; not flirting with self-indulgence and over-complication but blossoming into texture and colour; fresher, cleaner, more immediate.
For years to come doom bands will be described as “like Pallbearer mixed with X” until they become a so deeply ingrained into metal’s consciousness, deconstructed into infinity and a polished, pre-approved opinion formed. Before that happens, listen to this album and enjoy discovering something wonderful.