The most payoff on hype you've seen since their last album or the one before that.Profound Lore, 2017
8.6 / 10
Bands like Rwake, King Woman, Windhand, Khemmis, and scores of others have found tons of visibility in doom metal. It’s something that hasn’t been common for the genre in its entire existence. I don’t count Ozzy-era Black Sabbath as doom since, without intending to start a movement, they’re pretty much the reason the genre exists. Still, Arkansas’ Pallbearer have been the golden boys of this surprising doom metal renaissance from day one.
Out of all the other doom bands coming up lately, none are as consistently excellent as Pallbearer. There’s been a pretty massive and undeniable hype machine around them, but they’re the only group exceeding expectations on each release. Sorrow and Extinction kicked things off with a gorgeously melodic boulder of an album. Foundations of Burden followed up with an asteroid the size of Arkansas. And now, Heartless surpasses both. Several descriptors come to mind: big, brutal, trippy, gorgeous, heavy, uplifting, crushing, and I could keep going. In short, it nails you in the forehead with laser precision.
Heartless is aggressive and introspective in turns. Pallbearer sound the most angry and vulnerable to date. They’ve got the chops to sell this primal anger. And you can’t deny the sheer sonic mass behind it when they rage. As with prior releases, a sensitivity also exists throughout. A kind of hopefulness that shines through the gloom as instances of actual joy. The guitars are a velvety wall of warm tones. If you can imagine the sonic equivalent of a bear hugging you, it’s kind of like that. Leads come in and out and pull just as much from Journey as they do from Sabbath or Maiden. There are also hints of The Cure’s Disintegration-era goth and post-punk influence.
Drums are killer and not always a slow, doomy affair. While their first record stayed firmly in the down-tempo pocket, they’ve branched out more than a few times since then. Heartless is no exception. Homeboy hits the bell on the ride cymbal and doubles the pace to “normal” on more than a few occasions to great effect. Vocal lines tend to stay lengthy. This might remind less irony-loving listeners of Boston’s interplay of slow vocals over fast backing tracks. However, if you’re not prone to eye-rolling every joyful moment of life, you’ll find yourself nodding along.
Speaking of vocals, frontman Brett Campbell gives his strongest performance yet. There had been mentions of shakiness on the first record. He’s clearly taken that to heart and stepped up his game. Sure, there are some moments here and there that might raise an eyebrow. But it’s never an iffy performance issue as much as a questionable choice. If there’s one thing you learn to accept in metal, it’s questionable choices. In Pallbearer’s case, those choices almost always succeed. The album even closes with a legitimate power ballad. It actually feels more life-affirming and less cheesy than it has any right to. Imagine Journey’s “Faithfully” but passable outside of late in the evening at a wedding reception with some hints of shoegaze.
Overall, Pallbearer branches out on Heartless as the band visits some familiar territory heard by bands from the 1970s and 1980s. However, Pallbearer manage to make it sound fresh. Heartless is at once modern and ancient. Aggressive and sensitive. Solemn and joyous. There’s a reason this band stands out in the crowd. And this release justifies their place at the top of the mountain.