Monday, August 25, 2014

Pallbearer: Foundations of Burden (2014)


In their recent Decibel cover story, the members of Pallbearer seem perplexed at their sudden rise to prominence and the nearly universal, fervent adoration they've received among metalheads--and in some corners of the mainstream. I have been no less perplexed than them. Which is not to say that I don't adore them. My gut feeling is that they're not doing anything new, and that they're not doing it at a radically higher level than anyone else. But scouring my music collection, I'm hard-pressed to find any band that serves as a direct comparison.

So here's the part that's not new: Heavy doom metal riffs. Steady, or lurch-and-stumble. Simple solos for emphasis. With a great production job, no less. Though they are well-written and well-performed, I could easily find a dozen bands on par. The dynamics are solid, with variations of light and heavy, loud and quiet, and even some added tempo changes which were missing on the band's debut. Again, these are not especially unusual features. So if you're familiar with the band (as you should be), you may have guessed where this is going. What sets Pallbearer apart are the vocals.

The vocals are the reason I can't find a direct comparison to Pallbearer amongst the many doom metal bands in my collection. Brett Campbell's vocals have been described as angelic, but I find that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, they're quite human. Full of human suffering, human despair, and human hope. John Roderick recently lamented the fact that so many vocalists adopt an affectation; as a metalhead, I'm not going to advocate that we throw death growls out the window, but there is something refreshing about a pure singing voice. Especially one so genuinely emotive as Campbell's. And so well-matched to the music, I might add.

Where other doom bands have borne the corpses of loved ones many times (Loss immediately springs to mind), it's rarely been done on such a relatable level. And the bands which do use clean vocals are never quite so despairing, or quite so hopeful in grief. Pallbearer represents the naked fragility of humankind, laid bare from the shroud of any tropes. Their approach seems unoriginal because it's so obvious. But many ingenious ideas seem obvious in retrospect. If anyone has done this before--which is debatable--they haven't done it on this level.

The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars


  1. It's funny to me that we both gave this high marks but our reactions to it seem to have been wildly different.

    1. I don't think our reactions were really that different. I noticed the grander compositions and more adventurous writing, but I kind of glazed over that fact in the second paragraph because I thought the real unique and interesting part of this band is the juxtaposition of vocal style and music.