Twisted_Psychology on November 6th, 2017
All our gods have fled
At the risk of losing my doom cred, I must admit that Pallbearer is one of those bands that I feel like I’ve “appreciated” more than I actually “liked.” They’ve got some excellent songs to their name and deserve their success for the massive influence they’ve already had in the post-Warning world of sad boy jams, but their less riff-oriented approach to traditional doom has made them somewhat unengaging. Their third full-length album doesn’t distant itself too far from past efforts but it does hint at a different direction on the horizon.
The changes are subtle at first as “I Saw the End” starts things off. The guitar still utilizes shoegaze-inspired chord progressions and the vocals are as mopey as ever, but the production gives the singing much more clarity and confidence while the instrumental break shows off some prog influence that hadn’t been quite as prominent before. From there, “Thorns” follows this up with a more active riff set than usual and “Lie of Survival” is an especially depressing ballad in the grand Patrick Walker tradition.
While the first half is pleasant enough, the last three songs are where Heartless gets truly interesting. Pallbearer has never made a more aggressive song than “Cruel Road” as the tempo picks up the pace, the guitars take on more Neurosis-style chugging, and the vocals mix the melodic laments with some distorted, almost Ministry-esque barks. “A Plea for Understanding” is also worth noting as the guitar is completely immersed in David Gilmour territory while the vocals are at their most dynamic as a subdued baritone leads to especially cathartic choruses.
I think Pallbearer may still be in my “appreciation” box but Heartless is the most engaging album they’ve put out so far. Much of the songwriting is still merited by the emotional intent and structure transitions rather than the actual compositions, but working in the changes over the course of the album does result in some powerful tracks toward the end. Heartless may not win you over if you’ve not enjoyed the band’s previous work and it still requires listeners to be in a certain mood while listening, but Pallbearer is clearly going somewhere.
”Lie of Survival”
“A Plea for Understanding”
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com
ZepFan on May 21st, 2017
The Magnum Opus
Awesome. It's a word that has pretty much worn out it's definition. We all say it in relation to something going on in our lives whether it's the rising sun or the rolling amazement of thunderclouds. But what exactly is the definition of awesome? According to the dictionary it means "causing or inducing awe; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear." Much deeper than what we use in our everyday language. To me, those are most of the feelings I felt as soon as I began listening to this album. Heartless is the third LP by Arkansas doom lords Pallbearer and on this release they have pulled out ALL of the stops. After the world silencing debut of Sorrow and Extinction and the elegiac followup Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer once again had colossal expectations to live up to. Even as a die hard Pallbearer fan, I personally felt that there was no chance on earth that Brett, Joe, Devin and Mark could top two perfect albums such as these. The moment that the digital version was available, I quickly hit purchase and began my journey. After the nearly 59 minutes of music, I was almost moved completely to tears. Why? How? Why did this record move me that much? How could such a heavy record leave me utterly breathless? At that moment it clicked. Pallbearer are not your average heavy metal band. They are a group whose music touches your very soul.
I Saw the End begins the maelstrom. With possibly the most hypnotic opening to a doom record, the band then slam your face with a riff forged in the utter nothingness of a black hole. Brett and Devin play off each other as if telepathy is at play somehow. Joe and Mark anchor the groove machine that keeps this thing from flying off into the ether. Brett's singing has continually increased in confidence since their debut and this track is a masterful demonstration of that maturity. But what is different from this song compared to songs on Foundations and Sorrow, is that it launches into these amazing prog rock nuanced riff structures that lull then crush you to pulp. Easily one of the best songs that Pallbearer have ever written.
Thorns is no different. Except for the small bit of info that would scare most doom metal junkies. This track is fast as hell for Pallbearer. You can definitely tell they'd been listening to Metallica and Voivod during the writing process. It made me think of what would happen if James Hetfield and Roger Waters formed a doom band. It's dark and full of chugging riffs, but has enough atmosphere to support life on a small planet. The track has an overcast aura but in an almost contradictory way, it fills your heart with utter triumph. Strange? Not for Pallbearer. For other groups, that's a nearly impossible feat to achieve. For them, it's just another Tuesday.
As you listen to tracks like these and the following two like Lie of Survival and Dancing in Madness, you begin to ask some very serious questions. These may include and are not limited to: "How in the world can a band be so heavy but so tender? Where did they come up with that riff or drum fill? Are these guys even human? Is there some sort of celestial force at work?" Personally I believe wholeheartedly in the latter question. These men were inspired by something to write and record what this album became.
This album also begins to show the group's increasing ability to include prog rock song structures into their hymns of doom. You hear Pink Floyd in Thorns, Santana and King Crimson in Dancing in Madness and Yes in Lie of Survival. How they can incorporate these influences is a mystery to us but all a part of Pallbearer's magical musical spell. To conjure songs like these with influences like that is truly a gutsy move. But leave it to Pallbearer to continue to shatter expectations and minds as well.
Enter Cruel Road. In my opinion, this is one of the GREATEST songs I have EVER heard in my life. With an opening that somewhat sounds like Journey on acid, the band hit the gas and don't let up. It's as if Dennis DeYoung of Styx fronted Kylesa. The riff. Brett's vocal acrobatics. Joe and Devin's gang vocals. The screaming psychedelic sonic boom of the solo. The ending chug and shouted mantra of Brett, Joe and Devin. It's a truly incredible thing to behold. And if the hair on your body doesn't stand on end during the final lines of the song, you clearly have no soul.
But even after that track and the title track have completely blown you away, nothing in your life has prepared you for A Plea for Understanding. If the album closed with Heartless, this still would have been an amazing record. But A Plea for Understanding is what takes this album from a crappy garage recorded demo to being in the pantheon of albums like Master of Reality, The Monad of Creation, Forest of Equilibrium, Turn Loose the Swans, Physical Graffiti, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Hunted, Animals, The Wall, Tales of Topographic Oceans, Tarkus, Crack the Skye, Blue Record, Superunknown, In the Court of the Crimson King, 10,000 Days and Through Silver in Blood just to name a few. If this was their third and final album, this track would be their magnum opus. Just when I thought that the only Pallbearer song that would make me cry was Given to the Grave, this song makes it's presence known like the man-mountain on the cover. Sad, reflective, heavenly, cosmic, triumphant, even absolutely freaking brilliant are not enough to describe this song. In some alternate universe, this is the song that brings people and nations to reconciliation. It's what a depressed and lonely individual has always wanted to to tell their loved ones. The final lines of the song are utterly heart wrenching and will leave you in stunned silence when it ends. How can anyone not lose it over the lines:
Behind the eyes lies a truth
So deeply concealed
Somewhere inside is a place
Where the weary rest and heal
Anger, fear, and regret keep the darkness at hand
But these feelings are real
All I ask, won't you please understand.
Spellbinding is the only word I can think of when I hear this song end. I would be comfortable with this being the last song I hear before I leave this world. It's THAT moving.
Heartless has shown what Pallbearer are capable of when they crack open their rib cages and bear it all to the world. This is the album that many in the future will look back at and say "I remember when I heard this record." It will bring many memories of days gone by that have been overcome because four men from Arkansas knew that making music was their calling. It is an album that will always remind us that "dreams may try to grow in the dark, but no fire can burn without the setting of a spark." This is the album that sets the spark to the blazing fire within you. Remember what you felt in this music and let it touch your heart forever. Then you can you truly say that this album was awesome in every sense of the word.
HeavyMetalMeltdownReviews on May 19th, 2017
Heartless is borderline soulless
Doom. Doom can be an awfully picky genre, from those initial rumblings from Birmingham with Black Sabbath, to those that trail blazed the scene such as Candlemass, Trouble, Pentagram and Saint Vitus. Post this, doom made love with many other genres, stoner, black, sludge, the list goes on and on. The only downside to this, is that yes, doom multiplied like horny rabbits and there are now literally thousands of bands, with a lot of it being generic boring doom that is best avoided. However, as with most genres, there are a lot of diamonds gleaming from the stone.
From out of literally nowhere, Pallbearer exploded onto the scene in 2012 with their storming debut, 'Sorrow and Extinction', followed 2 years later by the equally good 'Foundations of Burden' and this leads us to 3 years later, 2017 and the much anticipated third album from Pallbearer, 'Heartless'. This time Pallbearer have moved on from Profound Lore Records and into the big time with Nuclear Blast Records and this shows instantly with 'Heartless'. The lilac album cover coupled with the very retro introduction on the cover itself of: ‘'Heartless' – a long playing record by Pallbearer’ brings up memories of the 60’s and/or those Indie bands that look like hipsters and try to be retro.
'Heartless' kicks off with the rather beautiful 'I Saw the End' and that gleaming production burns through the speakers immediately showing that Nuclear Blast expect Pallbearer to be at the cutting edge of their label, but Hang about? Is this Pallbearer? Where are the crunching, droning guitars that got Pallbearer where they are? 'Heartless' signals a huge step away from their previous sound with the album focusing more on multiple melodies that swathe and interweave together more like a classical composition than your regular average song. However, there are glimpses of Pallbearer’s previous work, if you were a fan of 'The Ghost I Used to Be' from 'Foundations of Burden', then tracks such as 'Dancing in Madness' and 'Cruel Road' will be right your up street.
One of the main points about 'Heartless' that may interest people is that it attempts to break the norms set down by genres over the years. In 'Heartless' you will find no chorus’ and very few hooks that will pull you in which goes for some very difficult listening and can easily fall into the category of background noise. Obviously, there is a perfectly acceptable amount of droning expected from a doom record and as you would expect, 'Heartless' is no different. The main issue with 'Heartless' is that this droning just doesn’t go anywhere and although there are parts to certain songs that make your ears prick up and go, hang on, what did they just do there? It is far and few between.
The vocals of Brett Campbell are a lot stronger on 'Heartless' than previous releases which beautifully twine and drift ethereally over the music and this is shown perfectly in 'I Saw the End', the lengthy 'A Plea for Understanding' and album’s initial video release, 'Thorns'. However, it is 'A Plea for Understanding' that steals the show with Pallbearer waiting for the end of the record to unleash it and if this marks the start of a new venture for Pallbearer then they won’t find a better benchmark than that song.
All in all, 'Heartless' is a huge step for Pallbearer, the question is; is it necessarily in the right direction? There are some very good melodies on 'Heartless', but a melody can’t carry an album alone and you have to question whether the refusal to follow the norms was a good idea, but only hindsight will tell. 'Heartless' will be an album that will divide Pallbearer’s fanbase, there are those that will thoroughly enjoy 'Heartless' and those which is distance themselves from it. The only way to choose is to buy the album yourself and make up your own mind.
SweetLeaf95 on April 23rd, 2017
Everybody Was Dancin' In The Madness
Much like what has been going on with the black metal scene lately, doom metal is taking its own sort of turn, and Pallbearer are a strong candidate for this kind of movement. Heartless is their most recent release, which stays true to the backbone of doom metal, but exceeds the general consensus of what somebody would expect to hear. Instead, since being typical seems to hold such a high premium, they assess this with some drops of depressive styles, and tampers with the distortion to assist this kind of an atmosphere. The end product? A pretty solid and rainy release that can get a little awkward at times.
Instead of cracking down on dark, raunchy, and slow riffs the whole time, they use that as more of a background effect, allowing the rhythm guitar to lay out a lot of the ground work. On the forefront, we get small guitar pieces that veer completely away from anything dark sounding, and they take on more of an emo rock sound. The compositions are definitely fantastic, but it can be hard to get into, seeing how much it opposes the rhythm sections, and for sure needs to grow on you. On the plus side, the vocals are very fitting with this, seeing that they also take a higher and cleaner standpoint, rather being dark and devious. This wouldn't allow any space for evil gimmicks or malicious numbers (despite it being an hour long). Instead, it leaves the listener with a feeling of sadness and sorrow. Chants are subtly thrown in to convey the message a little better, such as in "Cruel Road". And of course, there's always a spot for acoustics to chime in here and there for greater affect. There could be no better setting than a rainy, dreary day on a screened in porch by the mountains to enjoy a record like this.
Song structure is different for sure, following no formats, and avoiding choruses or verses by all means. The only pattern that runs on most of the tracks is opening with something less deep and heavy, and something more emotional. But anything with that much potential ceases to be repetitive. At times, it can be uplifting, and it's absolutely beautiful. The intro to "Dancing In Madness" is mind-blowing, and the way that it transitions into the doom and gloom is rather impressive. Seeing that most of the tracks are seven minutes or longer, there's plenty of time for them to draw out the instrumentation, taking more of the attention than the vocals receive. Sometimes though, it can get a little too out of control, and what seems to be pedal happy, thus causing more distortion than what is needed and becomes overwhelming. Usually this gets broken up by chug-driven breaks, particularly in the longer songs. Despite the great flow in "Dancing To Madness", there are many weak spots in transition in other parts of Heartless, as well as things that work, but don't work well together. Overall, I appreciate what Pallbearer are doing, as it shakes up the genre a little bit, and while it isn't perfect, it's definitely worth buying.
JimmyStJames97 on April 5th, 2017
Innovative, gorgeous, and heartbreaking
Pallbearer are one of those bands that I never expected to like as much as I did. I wasn't really that into doom metal when their album Foundations of Burden came out in the middle of 2014 - I'd only just begun listening to Deafheaven, and my journey into the deeper parts of metal, as it were, hadn't quite hit full swing. But a fateful car ride came along, and my friend Austin (arguably Pallbearer's biggest fan since Sorrow and Extinction, and presumably until the heat death of the universe) played "Worlds Apart" when it was his turn with the aux cord.
In a word, I was crushed. I was crushed by how uncompromisingly heavy the song was, I was crushed by the complexity of its ten-plus minute run, and I was most crushed by how heart-rending the melodies were - vocal, guitar, what have you. I quickly became enamored with the song and its corresponding album, which remained in my car's CD player for nearly a year after I burned a copy.
On the surface, Heartless is very similar to its predecessor. It's heavy as hell, heartfelt, and not a touch overproduced. But there's something different about this album. For one, it's Pallbearer's fastest album yet, as lead single "Thorns" is quick to display with its thundering, atonal guitars that trample the listener like a musical stampede. "Cruel Road" chugs along with rapid-fire palm-muting and some of the most expressive, honest, and powerful vocal delivery in Pallbearer's catalog. I'm not sure who brought up the idea of shouted vocals for this album, but whoever did, thank you. We all love Brett's voice and melodies, but there's nothing wrong with working outside your premade box to create something surprising for the listener.
As far as the song structures themselves go, they are actually quite a bit more complex than on either of Pallbearer's previous two full-length efforts; there's honestly not that much repetition to be found save for a few spots on the album, so if there's a particular riff that you're not 100% in love with, fear not - it'll probably be gone within a minute at the absolute most, never to be reprised again. Synthesizers even pop in on a track or two, but only as a garnish - a bit like putting Sriracha on an already-spicy dish; it's really less for making a big change, more for just adding a bit of extra flavor. To be honest, there's so much variety to the songwriting and structuring that calling this album simply a doom record seems a little reductive. The opening of "Dancing in Madness" recalls 70's progressive rock, and "Cruel Road" pushes the band into straight sludge metal territory. There's a whole lot going on in these tracks, is what I'm trying to convey here.
For two, it's also Pallbearer's most lyrically pointed effort yet; while Foundations and Sorrow were mostly concerned with grand concepts like the balance between light & dark and death itself, Heartless treads much closer to reality. "Thorns" seems to very subtly reference life as a post-9/11 adult, with lyrics like These thorns are all I can feel/Fragmented shards of a god/I leave a memory/Better left scattered/In another life and Can't walk away/From atonement/Was it worth it all/And can we ever find our way back home, while "A Plea for Understanding" is...well, a plea for understanding. Specifically, it seems, an understanding of the narrator's depression and how it makes seemingly simple things difficult to accomplish: Anger, fear, and regret keep the darkness at hand/But these feelings are real/All I ask, won't you please understand; Try to forget the past/But nothing ever changes/Try to understand/But nothing ever changes/Try to lose myself/But nothing ever changes/Try to love myself/But nothing ever changes; and the chorus' refrain of I just want to give to you/All that you have given me/My searching heart/Cries for this/This thing I can't grasp/A love somewhere within all seem to point unflichingly toward someone struggling with the deepest recesses of their own mind.
For three, the album was recorded by the band themselves to two-inch analog tape in their hometown. While this does result in a few clips here and there (specifically, it seems, when drummer Mark Lierly hits especially hard or a solo comes into play), it also results in the album sounding so visceral and raw that it honestly blew me away a little bit when I first listened to the album in one sitting. Foundations definitely was cleaner-sounding, and Sorrow was very lushly- and well-produced, but neither album was anywhere near as punchy and powerful as Heartless is, even in its weaker technical moments - which, thank Christ, are few and far between, and aren't significant enough to ruin the overall experience of the album (like some bands I know and love dearly despite this shortcoming - *cough cough* Bongripper *cough cough*). Heartless, while certainly not a perfect album, comes shockingly fucking close. If the Arkansas lads can dream up another album anything like this in emotional weight and songwriting complexity and have said hypothetical album be as cleanly recorded as Foundations and as densely produced as Sorrow, I will eat my fucking shorts. Holy shit.
At any rate, that's enough of the review. Go listen to it, and then, once you're done, listen to it again. And again. And maybe one more time after that. Catch all the complexities; read along with the lyrics; headbang along to the riffs and air-guitar along to the solos; make your neighbors call the cops on you and embarrass yourself in traffic; then, once you're done, admit to yourself that if ever there was a doom metal band that deserved to break into the mainstream and make unbelievable shitloads of money for the rest of their lives, admit that that band is Pallbearer.