Heartless by Pallbearer

Release date: March 24, 2017
Label: Profound Lore Records / Nuclear Blast Records

Pallbearer’s anticipated third release Heartless appears and is sure to be acclaimed. If I recall correctly, Pallbearer were the first band I ever saw at the legendary Roadburn Festival, and saw them twice that weekend, so have extremely positive associations in that respect! And while I preferred their debut Sorrow and Extinction to the follow-up Foundations of Burden, it’s always interesting to keep track of a band’s evolution, especially in this case where they seem marked for wide success. Now almost more of a slow-ish classic rock band or something than a doom outfit, they certainly retain the power of chunky low riffs, with a fair amount of chug to them as well, as can be observed early on in first track ‘I Saw the End’.

From the Pallbearer of old, there’s a few echoes- one of the signature aspects of their early singing style was a sort of descending syncopated arpeggio, stepping down vocally into the depths. Here that move occurs only once, on second track ‘Thorns’ which also has a great dirty chug matched with floating veils of harmonic guitar work to open it, and a great wriggling sea monster guitar solo bit later. Overall the vocals are more often in the epic and emotionally-strained upper range, which will be a matter of taste, but for me is a little bit much over the album’s 60-minute extent.

Broad influences are claimed in the blurb, from prog, 90’s alt-rock, and ‘black-lit proto-metal’ (what?), but actually it seems more late 80s big mainstream rock-metal that shows through here and there, with certain great big shiny bombastic moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a Top Gun or Days of Thunder scene, pointing to Big Emotions while at the same time being all cool and chrome and engines and leather jackets and reproductive heteronormativity and stuff. A lot of this is still really enjoyable: underpinned by the low guitar riffs, there’s ample space on ‘Cruel Road’ for example for the kind of massive echoey soloing that tends to bring a grin.

They included a pdf with the lyrics, which was at least good for checking the eyebrow-raising line “I suck at holes” in ‘Cruel Road’… oh, oops, it’s “my sunken hopes”… Sorry! The chorus to that track also sticks out memorably: “My journey’s brought me home/ It’s not what it used to be”. Poor little hobbits! Actually there is something a bit Shire-dwelling about this band, sort of stout and homely-seeming but when tested have actually got considerable (musical) steel under their sensible outfits.

It’s telling that in the press release there are far more mentions of rock than metal: the record is an ‘inspiring collection of monumental rock music’ (not a bad phrase for it actually); their ‘heavy rock’ will appeal to ‘diehards’ but also crossover to new territories; and many of the songs display a ‘humid rock swagger,’ whatever that is. To me it’s almost poignant to read that ‘more than a doom band, Pallbearer are a rock group with a singular songwriting talent and etc etc’.

There’s a short middle section in ‘Thorns’ which is strongly reminiscent (in no unpleasant way) of Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’. The acoustic but highly accomplished atmospheric twiddling fits well in the song, and it’s certainly not as overblown as the track it evokes (the vocals here thankfully aren’t at the ‘whouuuurhhhhyeeyahh’ stage). But the association it prompts is interesting, since back in 1991 Metallica’s black album was notable (or notorious) for two reasons: that it had drifted far from the band’s key sound and audience, but also that it prompted spectacular crossover success. Likely an appropriate sonic omen for Pallbearer then.

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