Oxygen becomes scarce as you climb towards the summit. With the air cold and clear, the breathtaking sight is crisp: snowy mountain peaks and glacial lakes surround you. Of course, to ascend to the top, you have to take one step at a time, simultaneously meditative and exhilarating. This mountainous scene, evoked by the artwork for Pallbearer’s third album, Heartless, is also appropriately fitting for the epic doom metal tracks contained on the record. To be released on March 24 via Nuclear Blast and Profound Lore, Pallbearer’s Heartless is anything but, brimming with emotion, intensity and sprawling tracks.
With the ominous yet uplifting “I Saw the End” as the opener, Pallbearer start the record in fine form. A lyrical guitar lead and chugging riffs flow into nuanced guitar harmonies. Brett Campbell’s emotional singing is a perfect extension of the quintet’s instrumentation. I always hear Black Sabbath influences when I spin Pallbearer, and this track is no different. From the Ozzy-esque vocal processing down to the plodding musical mammoth of a song, “I Saw The End” promises quite the record.
First single “Thorns” is aptly named, with a menacing riff hooky enough to get barbed in your mind and demand multiple listens. Said riff sounds like what I would imagine would happen if Slice The Cake decided to play doom; the chugging of the verse, alongside Campbell’s stellar voice, leads into a half-time chorus with a melancholy, clever chord progression. Before long, clean guitars provide a gentle reprieve to the gargantuan, pounding riffs recurring throughout the song. Floating vocals and a psychedelic crescendo close “Thorns”, while introducing the meandering, jammy vibe that purveys various portions of Heartless.
There are only seven tracks on Heartless, but the runtime is sixty-one minutes. This should give you a sense of the typical song lengths to be found on the record. Although doom is known for its slow tempos and recurring themes, shorter tracks like the aforementioned “Thorns” and “I Saw the End” seem to be more impactful than the wandering, lengthy “Dancing in Madness” or “A Plea for Understanding”. However, these expansive song structures do allow for experimentation; expressive guitar solos, interlocking instrumentation, acoustic sections and contrastingly heavy, shouted vocals provide a sense of dynamic exploration that makes the album’s artwork so fitting.
Like the aforementioned mountain climbing metaphor, Pallbearer’s Heartless is beautiful and inspiring, yet also slow and contemplative. The group’s emotional songwriting and Campbell’s gift for vocal melodies elevates their interpretation of the doom metal genre to new heights. Some listeners might not be drawn to the lengthier songs on the record, their dynamic twists and turns are nonetheless sure to peak (pun intended) the interest of those with some patience. Pallbearer have established themselves as a powerful, promising unit ever since their début release, and Heartless is a potent, passionate addition to their already impressive discography.
Notable Tracks: “I Saw the End”; “Thorns”
FFO: Black Sabbath, Mastodon