When I was a kid and a teenager, way, way before the Internet just handed us everything and stripped away the mystery from everything, I remember waiting with baited breath to hear follow-up records from my favorite bands. I recall stowing away any time a band such as Iron Maiden or Metallica or Testament issued a new record, studying the details, following along with the lyric sheets, and taking it all in.
That sort of mystery and excitement doesn’t really exist anymore. Maybe it really is because we’re served up preview songs, we see album covers well before they’re in stores, or if you’re a writer like I am, we hear the records sometimes months before they’re ready for purchase. It’s hard, then, to have a truly special moment with a band or a record, or to have that much-anticipated follow-up that your entire year revolves around. Luckily for me, and I know for tons of other readers and listeners out there, Arkansas-based doom metal band Pallbearer remains one of those shining beacons in the metal year that is truly worth anticipating. What they would do to follow up their universally praised (justifiably so) debut record “Sorrow and Extinction” matters a whole lot. Incredibly so. What other album carries the weight, importance, and expectations this one does? And if you say Mastodon, you can log off the goddamned site right now. Yes, so many of us have rolled out the ragged red carpet for Pallbearer’s second album “Foundations of Burden,” and is it ever worth it.
Pallbearer–guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell, guitarist Devin Holt, bassist Joseph D. Rowland, and drummer Mark Lierly–haven’t just successfully matched their monumental debut, a record that made the metal world realize there is beauty and worth in doom in its most traditional form. They have eclipsed it and pushed themselves to that proverbial next level. This is one of those rare records these days we wait with strained patience to hear, and once it reaches in and permeates our brain we realize we’re in the presence of one of the most important bands of our time. This is the modern-day answer to those aforementioned legends. Pallbearer may not sell out stadiums, block up big-box store shelves, and get massive airplay on lame-brained radio stations. Instead, they’re the a band pushing boundaries, making metal count in its purest form, and just mattering a whole motherfucking ton. This six-track record is a massive accomplishment, a touchstone in current metal history, and one that should cement them as the demigods. That’s not overstatement. That’s the truth. This is the big band that never lets you down and makes you get lost in the magic of being a metal fan.
The expanded, elevated sound is apparent from the opening strains of “Worlds Apart,” as it just bursts open with glory and sullen energy. Campbell’s vocals are a total revelation here and on this whole record, and he has really stepped up his game. He’s one of the best singers in metal now, period. The song travels well over its 10 minutes, with rich, elegant doom tapestries painted, vocal harmonies popping from the woodwork and enhancing the band’s sound even further, and a dramatic journey sprawling that pulls through this cut and never lets you lose your focus. “Foundations” has a burlier opening, and once again, the vocals are practically magical, as Campbell unfurls lines including, “We shall build here, in this cursed place,” almost acting like the band’s comment on their place in the metal world. The back end gets incredibly lush, and the singing and harmonizing are gorgeous, sweeping you up and enthralling you. It’s just an amazing song. “Watcher in the Dark” is a really interesting one, as it gets gritty following its majestic start. But then it delves into murkier territory, at times feeling like a really early Queensryche song, and the way it plays out is unlike anything else in the band’s catalog. That said, we haven’t even gotten to the most surprising cut on this fantastic album.
“The Ghost I Used to Be” is the track most people have heard by now, as it premiered a few weeks ago over at NPR to much excitement. The opening riff is cool and icy, and that leads into a synth section that feels like the trickling soundtrack of an old B sci-fi movie. After a steadily moving first part of the song, it gets a little more aggressive, with shouts sliding next to Campbell’s smooth vocals, and it provides a rougher edge to this one. There is some great soloing that emerges, and the final minutes of the song burn brightly and in a calculated manner. Now, for the track that’ll take most by surprise. “Ashes” is a three-minute gem of a song that acts as the record’s “ballad.” It’s quiet, with plinking, spacey keys and a cosmic environment, as Rowland takes over on lead vocals, quite capably might I add. It’s a daring little thing, and it expands Pallbearer’s universe even further. Finally, 11:41-long closer “Vanished” arrives, on the wings of slow driving melodies and softer vocals from Campbell. The song travels a deliberate but steady pace for the first half, but later it opens up and gets a little heavier. Things gets muddier, everything comes in heavier, and the vocals swing back to being a little more forceful, and always brimming with passion. Finally, the song hits its final stretch, as the band begins to dim their torches as the passage fades into night. If you find you’ve halted your breathing, you’re not alone. This record will do that to you.
Yes, you’re going to hear tons of praise and read millions of inches of copy of writers like me raising up “Foundations of Burden.” It’s not hyperbole. It’s not hive mentality. It’s people realizing we are in the midst of a great, special metal band that really is just at the start of their run. And already they have delivered two all-time classic records that must be a part of any metal collection worth anything. Go get this record, put on your headphones, and let each rich second of these songs take over and make you feel joy in metal again. Not many bands can do that, so why not indulge in the ones that can?
For more on the band, go here: http://pallbearerdoom.com/
To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/pallbearer/
For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/