Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden | Review

Before you get into this review, if you've never heard Pallbearer before, go listen to their stunning debut Sorrow & Extinction. When you're done crying, come on back. If you have heard S&E before, the Little Rock doom quartet's follow-up to their critically embraced debut does not suffer in the least from any sort of sophomore jinx.

In fact, Foundations of Burden may even surpass its predecessor in the eyes of many. Vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell, bassist Joseph Rowland, guitarist Devin Holt and drummer Mark Lierly have taken the structures laid out previously and expanded on them. Foundations is even more lush, warm, massive and emotionally draining.

Pallbearer make music for themselves and with that they don't feel the need to please anyone but themselves on this latest masterpiece. (Yeah, I said it.) In doing so they display a greater diversity and depth, mixing tempos, altering vocals and utilizing the talents of producer Billy Anderson to the fullest extent.

In contrast to S&E, the vocals on the opening track, “Worlds Apart” come earlier, hitting the listener with the most emotional facet from the onset. Both Rowland and Holt harmonize with Campbell and the results are outstanding. As expected the guitars are absolutely huge, solemn and pull the listener in with heartrending melodies and soul-crushing riffs in a way only Pallbearer can. The track, as does the album, cycles through a mix of emotions, the most powerful of which being depression. The lines “darkened heart/enlightened mind/whole worlds apart/remain entwined” put that feeling into sharp focus. But where S&E was intensely morose and morbidly despairing throughout, Foundations builds on that heartbreak.

Tracks such as “Foundations” and “Watcher in the Dark” (this writer's favourite) are not nearly as sorrowful. A growling tone makes the walls shake with malice and dread. Menacing undercurrents and increased cadences add a level of dynamics only hinted at previously. Less time spent hanging your head and more time banging it. Adding to that is a sense of peace and acceptance, a steady resolve that pushes through the loneliness and desolation.

Don't be mistaken in thinking that Pallbearer have moved that far from utter misery however. “The Ghost I Used To Be” begins and ends very close to the signature sound the band stamped out on S&E. Grief, mourning, self-doubt and despair are brought to the fore by the clarity and penetrating quality of Campbell's distinctive voice. But in the song's midsection it takes on not only a speed uncharacteristic of Pallbearer but a heavy gothic undertone that reminds one of Woods of Ypres. And no disrespect for Zach Stine but this track is but one example of how Lierly has pushed the rest of the band into new territory.

The shortest and possibly most powerful track is “Ashes”. At just 3:19 and mostly just (I believe) Rowland's voice, keys and ambient guitars, it stands out but the contrast brings unparalleled gravity to the whole album.

Closing hymn “Vanished” encompasses all that Pallbearer has become. It's the longest track with twist and turns, delicate beauty amidst monstrous tone, darkness, emotion and some of the most tear-jerking vocals you'll hear in metal.

If Pallbearer broke the mold by injecting torturous amounts of melody on S&E, they've reformed it on Foundations by pushing themselves and the genre to new heights. It's everything one could ask for from a doom record and more. Gargantuan riffs, stirring melodies, varied but all-heavy tone and reflective, introspective, deep and starkly poetic lyrics enthral the listener wholly regardless of song length. There is no one in heavy music today quite like Pallbearer.

By embracing the painful side of the human condition in pouring forth their own souls they empower the listener to feel more alive in knowing that by feeling those emotions as well they genuinely care for the things that matter most in life and are not just surviving by allowing the trivial to create their happiness.

Foundations of Burden is merely the next building block in cementing their growing legacy of a band gaining status among not only doom's current elite but possibly doom's all-time elite.

Matt Hinch

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Matt Hinch lives an unassuming life on the backroads outside Forest Mills, Ontario, Canada. He packs in as much metal as he possible can amid factory work, raising three daughters with his wife and working the land. In addition to Scratch the Surface Matt also writes for Hellbound, Metal Bandcamp, About Heavy Metal and his own blog, Kingdom of Noise.
Keep up with him on Twitter @KingdomofNoise.