Since the turn of the decade, very few bands have made such a huge impact in the metal genre as Pallbearer have over the last 5 years. Combining doom-laden heaviness with healing melodies, their two previous efforts (2012’s Sorrow and Extinction and 2014’s Foundations of Burden) were particular standouts for showcasing explorative, freeform structures within the doom metal genre.
So needless to say, there is an unsurprising amount of hype towards Heartless, the band’s third full-length effort. While retaining their trademark doom sound, they’ve chosen to incorporate prog-rock influences into the songs on this album, giving it an optimistic feel – a huge contrast to their previous work. The opener ‘I Saw The End’, is a perfect example with the dual guitar work of Brett Campbell and Devin Holt drawing you in and then guiding you through the journey with thick, yet beautiful harmonies. ‘Thorns’ is aptly named, with menacing riffs that is hooky enough to get barbed in your mind and demand multiple listens. Campbell’s stellar voice guides us through a half-time chorus, with clean guitars providing a reprieve to the gargantuan, pounding riffs recurring throughout the song.
Although this clean polished sound may suggest that Pallbearer has lost its edge, they somehow manage to work this to their advantage. This holds true on ‘Lie of Survival’, with a melancholic guitar lead reminiscent of Russian Circles, the song then builds into a crescendo that’s bolstered by some of the strongest songwriting in this still-young group’s career. ‘Dancing In Madness’ begins with a similar stirring intro, with keyboards acting as the perfect backdrop for some mournful guitar work. Over the course of its eleven minutes, it’s particularly effective when it unexpectedly shifts into devastating sludge.
‘Cruel Road’ provides aggressive riffs, harsher vocals and an overall more direct and pointed structure reminds us that Pallbearer are still performing doom metal to perfection. Closing the album is the incredibly moving ‘A Plea For Understanding’, a ballad that is a bit of a left-turn for the band, yet it builds in intensity throughout its 13-minute duration. It’s a song that tugs at your heartstrings like doom metal should, with heart-wrenching vocals that is more gentle than before, and when they start to rise, there is such a sense of power and pain felt in Campbell’s voice that at times, it is borderline tearful to hear.
With such breathtaking instrumentation that is also full of emotion, Pallbearer have crafted a record that takes all the best elements of their previous releases while venturing into new territories. With the band’s trademark blend of dynamic gentle exploration and great intensity, the seven tracks that makes up ‘Heartless’ sees Pallbearer looking set to complete their journey from the doom-laden underground to all-conquering titans of modern metal, and over time this could become one of the all-time standouts of the doom metal genre. It may be heartless by name, but by nature it is anything but.
- I Saw the End
- Lie of Survival
- Dancing in Madness
- Cruel Road
- A Plea for Understanding
Brett Campbell – vocals, guitar
Devin Holt – guitar, backing vocals
Joseph D. Rowland – bass, backing vocals
Mark Lierly – drums