Foundations of Burden

Written by: EW on 25/08/2014 13:20:55

Pallbearer shot into the international doom consciousness in 2012 with the release of "Sorrow and Extinction”, an album that at once felt comfortably familiar yet astoundingly new. It’s heart-wringing melodies and perceptibly fragile clean vocals should have not worked atop a catalogue of crushing riffs and tempos but thanks to some serious songwriting excellence and an utterly fantastic production job, which provided such an achingly great guitar sound, it flowed as smooth and tastefully as a well poured pint of Guinness. In many ways the band were, and are, a US equivalent to Britain’s Warning (now performing in a revised form in 40 Watt Sun), providing a critically lauded duo who turned the standard genre templates of doom upside down to reveal inner workings us followers never knew existed. Thus it goes without saying "Foundations of Burden" is burdened with expectation that was wholly absent upon the release of "Sorrow…" and at times it shows as the four piece look to channel the spirit of that record a little too much, but I could not possibly decry their wishing to stick to a successful and unique formula that has won them so much praise.

The crippling emotions that stoke the fires of these six new tracks have the tendency to drag the compositions into periods of lethargy, not of the same mournful kind which permeated the debut LP but just sufficiently enough to limit the overall effectiveness of the whole. This, though, is the fine line dividing tiredness and cerebral pleasure upon which Pallbearer sit and makes their work the emotional rollercoaster it is. Take 12-minute closing track "Vanished" where echoing chords bookend the inner pulsating bass-driven rhythm - a fast one by the standards of Pallbearer - and Brett Campbell’s haunting layered vocal performance form an archetype template from which the band primarily work. I’m finding it hard to not think of these chords as more prosaic than earlier pieces despite the beauty in their construction carrying an airy lightness one would not normally associated with a pure doom album. Of course this is not always the case; "Worlds Apart" has that solid opening track tempo that "Foreigner" had done previously, getting the album rolling at a decent lick under a volley of ethereal lead and haughty rhythm guitar passages from Campbell and Devin Holt, before breaking ranks and forming a chorus of vocals which bridge the song into a period of delicate guitar ambience.

"Foundations" builds a structure akin to its lyrical foundations of burden through a heaving juggernaut of an opening, eschewing complexity for a lesson in how tonality can be just as effective. The break into a head-nodding tempo led by drummer Mark Lierly merely accentuates the song’s opening punchiness before things get more transcendental and Ahab-like in the back half. "Watcher in the Dark" bears the closest proximity to the aforementioned Warning with a consummate ease about the slowly developing wailing guitar which trails into a stripped down bridge section, but the song’s latter withdrawal lacks any of the enveloping drama that marked out equivalent sections in the likes of "Devoid of Redemption" and "An Offering of Grief" from their debut LP. The overall absence of impending doom permeates into the dreamy "Ashes”, where the replacement of coruscating guitars with soft retro keys finally brings Campbell’s voice to the fore in a short piece which could easily have been taken from a Lana Del Rey record, what with the hidden positive lyrical missives and sorrowful musical tone.

Clearly there was no chance Pallbearer were going to relinquish their special sound which renders all they touch doomed but it is hard not to feel they have relied too much on this underlying tone at the expense of the more intriguing songs that renders "Sorrow…" such a classic and "Foundations of Burden" disappointing in comparison. However, that unique essence of Pallbearer remains a daring sound to behold and still marks this as a good record in it’s own right, one that supersedes anything most bands can conjure up and is further evidence of the strength in diversity of doom metal today. I await the upcoming tour supporting Yob with baited breath.

Download: Worlds Apart, Watcher in the Dark
For The Fans Of: Warning, 40 Watt Sun, While Heaven Wept
Listen: Facebook

Release date 19.08.2014
Profound Lore Records

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