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Pallbearer: Foundations Of Burden

You don’t have to be a genius to know what a band named Pallbearer are all about. In fact, coming as it does after a debut titled Sorrow & Extinction, and with its bad trip sci-fi/ horror sleeve illustration, those not generally inclined towards the deep end of the heavy metal pool could probably hazard a guess as to what their new record Foundations Of Burden sounds like without even listening to it. Yes, the Little Rock, Arkansas quartet are a “doom” metal outfit, as obsessed by the bleak, morbid imagery that fills their lyrics – blood and ashes, the excruciating passage of time, death, darkness, despair – as they are with the Black Sabbath blueprint of down-tuned guitars and grinding, glacial rhythms; and yes, Foundations is – at its core – a lumbering beast of an album seemingly custom-made for beardy stoners and Dungeons & Dragons geeks. But anyone dismissing Pallbearer simply because they think this particular strain of heavy rock isn’t going to be their bag would be denying themselves one of this year’s most enjoyably intense musical experiences. Far from being the somber, suffocating listen one might reasonably expect, Foundations is packed with killer hooks and melodic upswings, albeit played out at an unhurried pace more suited to exaggerated head-banging and air guitar theatrics than to bouncing around a moshpit; majestic, multi-tracked guitars roar and soar and spiral back down into passages of uneasy calm, the group deftly shifting up and down through the gears, propelling songs past the ten minute mark into territories more commonly associated with prog-rock dinosaurs of old, but if there is a definite whiff of “fantasy epic” about the album, at least it has the decency to shun gentle, Tolkeinesque meandering in favour of more R-rated Game Of Thrones-style fare. Without taking anything away from its still-amazing predecessor, Foundations feels like a huge leap forward, and whilst some of that is surely down to the presence behind the boards of veteran metal producer Billy Anderson, it certainly helps that Pallbearer are a noticeably better band than they were two years ago. When Sorrow & Extinction dropped, part of the appeal was that it felt like the unique and perfectly realised vision of a band that had arrived fully formed and at the height of their powers; the improvements on show here – the refinement of Brett Campbell’s once pitchy vocals into a proper BBQ-glazed-gravel metaller’s croon, his twin lead interplay with fellow guitarist Devin Holt, the three-part harmonies with bassist Joseph D. Rowland, newbie Mark Lierly’s loose-limbed drumming – reveal that wasn’t the case, and if this growth spurt isn’t thrilling enough in its own right the possibility that they may well continue to evolve makes for a pretty exciting prospect. It’s a cliche, I know, but Foundations really does feel like a landmark metal album, a classic in the making that pays faithful homage to the genre’s past whilst helping to shape its future in its own image. At this point it seems beyond doubt that it will be this year’s “big metal release for people that don’t normally like metal”, and that stands to reason given that you can hear echoes of Led Zep and Pink Floyd, Rainbow and Boston, even Foo Fighters and Radiohead over the course of its 55 minutes; it also means that a certain type of metal fan will automatically decide it’s a terrible record, even though it clearly owes as much of a debt to heavy-as-hell groups like Sleep, the Melvins, High On Fire and Yob. But, hey: you can’t please all the people all of the time, even when you’ve just made an album that stands a better chance than many of doing just that. One of the best records of the year, in any genre.
Foundations Of Burden is out August 19 via Profound Lore Records; listen to “The Ghost I Used To Be” below.



About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

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