By Calen Henry. Pallbearer's first two albums are modern doom classics so expectations are high for Heartless. By splitting the the difference between Sorrow and Extinction and Foundations of Burden and confidently experimenting over top of their trademark mournful but hopeful epic melodic doom, they've created their finest record yet. Not only does it not disappointBy Calen Henry.
|Artwork by Michael Lierly.|
Pallbearer's first two albums are modern doom classics so expectations are high for Heartless. By splitting the the difference between Sorrow and Extinction and Foundations of Burden and confidently experimenting over top of their trademark mournful but hopeful epic melodic doom, they've created their finest record yet. Not only does it not disappoint, it's almost incomprehensibly good.
Sorrow and Extinction was, especially in retrospect, a remarkably restrained record showcasing the band's expert melodic riffs above all else. The vocals were a bit timid but rounded out the band's now well established sound. The warm crush was wrapped in equally warm and dynamic production giving the band a unique voice in contemporary metal, sounding vintage but timeless.
Foundations of Burden stuck to the core musical formula the band developed on their debut, but developed their sound with more lush arrangements. Their massive riffs were fed through walls of guitar tracks and combined with harmonized vocals that were a marked improvement on the debut, adding a depth to the music that felt like a natural follow-up to Sorrow and Extinction.
Improved though the music was, the production was markedly different than the debut opting for a much more polished and modern sound. The overall sound was less dynamic and the drums, in particular, had a very "studio" sound. It diminished the overall impact of the album somewhat but certainly didn't majorly detract from the album.
|Photos by François Carl Duguay.|
Heartless brings back the production of Sorrow and Extinction. The drums are huge, the whole mix is wide open and the guitars are warm and fuzzy. Musically things are more restrained than Foundations of Burden. There are layered guitar parts but almost always multiple distinct melodic lines not a layered wall of sound. The vocals are the strongest they've ever been, thrown right up front and leading the band in many cases.
It's not simply a "mashup" of the first two albums. The band confidently expands many facets of their established sound. In addition to the trademark legato guitar lines, the band brings their heaviest riffs yet. There are some riffs so heavy and melodic that they wouldn't be out of place on a Jesu record. The heavier parts contrast with a new exploration of face-melting solos reminiscent of Mastodon's Brent Hinds' as well as some softer synth-supported passages. These new sounds are worked right in with the old giving a stylistic breadth to the songs that, while not lacking before, brings a new kind of magic to the band's sound.
The vocals are also a mix of old and new. Heartless has some of the absolute best harmonized vocals the band has ever done. They're mixed with some entirely new techniques for the band ranging from the processed ethereal vocals in the first half of "Dancing in Madness" to some shout-singing supporting some of the heavier parts of the second half, and even some gang vocals in "Cruel Road". Like the guitar approach, though, these vocals styles are expertly weaved together ebbing and flowing with the rest of the band.
Though an historical analysis and list of improvements goes a long way to make the case that this is far and away the best Pallbearer record, it all comes together, even more than their previous albums, to create a palpable sense of emotion that cannot be completely communicated in a review. Both intimate and awe inspiring, Heartless connects with the listener in a way many albums, especially metal albums, do not. On my fourth or fifth listen it was as though a switch flipped and I went from simply enjoying the record to really connecting with it; not the lyrics, but the music as a whole. A bit like the feeling when Sorrow and Extinction’s opener "Foreigner" transitions from the the acoustic intro into the huge distorted riff, but sustained over the entirety of the album. It's something that Pallbearer always almost instilled for me, but never completely until Heartless.