By Bridget Gallagher
Profound Lore Records
Arkansas’ Pallbearer were knighted doom metal heavyweights in the underground scene shortly after the release of their critically-acclaimed, 2012 debut album Sorrow and Extinction. Heartless, the band’s most recent album, forges a more musically technical sound than previous releases. However, the virtuosity of Heartless may push the band farther from mainstream success, instead increasing their acclaim among more underground scenes.
“I Saw the End” kicks off the album with unique vocal harmonies and the crisp dual guitar tones on “Thorns,” work with the crushing drums to form a wall of sound that is not overwhelmingly murky. However, the stand out element of this album is the creative composition of individual tracks. At 11:58 minutes, “Dancing in Madness” may seem long winded, but the time signature changes and layering of sound stave off monotony. Despite this, the tracks tend to run together too much. Where past albums found sonic levity in the form of classical acoustic guitar, Heartless pushes forward with little to break up songs or shift moods. Instead of telling a story, Heartless feels as if Pallbearer have written one long, yet ever-changing song.
Heartless is impressive due to its departure from a number of doom metal tropes. Like many doom metal albums, the lyrics are cryptic, drawing up mythical imagery at times. Yet, songs like the melancholic “Lie of Survival,” and crushing “I Saw the End” seem to be treading more in reality than fantasy. The band admits that the album “concentrates its power on a grim reality…our world [is] plumbing the depths of utter darkness.” The album art also avoids doom metal cliches like skulls, wizards and naked women. Instead, it juxtaposes an abstract painting against muted purple background.
The technically intense music, lyrics and album artwork create an album that feels more intellectual than their past projects. The question is, will the change in direction lead the band deeper into the underground? Perhaps leaving the cliches of metal behind will make Pallbearer’s music more appealing to fans of other genres. Stigma and stereotyping have made metal inaccessible and shedding the genre hallmarks could catapult Pallbearer into the mainstream.