The merry doomsters follow up a much acclaimed record with another much acclaimed record. So what’s the fuss about? It’s only doom, right?
It’s fair to say that Doom is a genre which, more than most, is happy to work within an extremely narrow narrow framework. You wouldn’t think much could be done with playing riffs really slowly and spacing out for a while – and 99% of the world’s doom bands are more than happy to prove you right. But 2014 has been a bumper year for doom bands showing how much scope there is within it’s confines, with the likes of Indian and Thou displaying it at it’s most myopic and misanthropic, Salem’s Pot bringing the schlock and awe, Tombstoned bringing the psyche, old hands YOB showcasing it’s more elegiac, meditative side and genre kingpins Electric Wizard reminding everyone just whose house this is. Perhaps the most féted in this Year of Doom is Pallbearer – on the surface a band doing what countless others are doing in combining slow handed riffery, elegent guitar leads and a general funereal atmosphere all played at a coffin carrying pace. It’s a yellowing blueprint that’s was drawn up long before they even picked up their guitars, so what makes them so special?
Their first record, Sorrow and Extinction, caught the ears of plenty outside of doom’s dark congregation. This, their second effort, doesn’t change anything that worked on that record – it’s a bolstering of what worked, a slow evolution perhaps befitting of their chosen pace. And whilst vocalist Brett Campbell does possess a beautiful set of pipes on him he does have more than a touch of Ozzy to his voice, much like a massive chunk of his peers. All it is that sets them apart from the Sabbath-at-half-speed style many of their peers fall into theirs an impressive melodic sensibility – but it’s enough to show that a touch more nous and a real sense of craft can make something magnificent from the most shop worn of parts.
Foundations of Burden is a 5 track suite of trudgery that weighs heavy with sorrow – but there’s something warmer here than most doom, more welcoming. It feels like the wake for something sadly lost. Anything that normally falls into the even narrower banding of funeral doom is usually awash with cringeworthy affectations, and whilst Foundations flirts with overblown guitar solos, pinch harmonics and bass runs nothing feels too flashy. It all fits within the gloom of the atmosphere. Despite the track lengths and the snail like tempo nothing really drags. There’s enough space in the production to allow everything to breathe whilst still allowing it to coalesce, envelop the listener and take them off into head nodding nirvana, lost in the guitar crunch and sinuous guitar lines. The sense of melody Pallbearer display can’t be understated – for most doom bands a soft ballad like Ashes, awash with sombre keys stately drums, would feel not so much like a left turn as it would absolute heresy. Here it doesn’t doesn’t even raise an eyebrow, beautifully seguing into the most trad-doom track on display in Vanished – perhaps showing that there is plenty more shades for them to play with in what seems at first glance a limited colour pallette.
It’s record that has been heralded far and whide already, even being championed by indie kingmakers Pitchfork, so this review is just another voice in the chorus. That particular endorsement may well have caused as many members of the doom faithful to turn their noses at them as it did bring them new fans. So it goes. But it’s a record that deserves to be heard by any fan of The Heavy. Those who prefer their doom to drag them into nightmare realms, who seek claustrophobic atmospheres and skeletal hands to clasp around their willing throats, have been well catered for this year. Pallbearer work on the opposite end of the spectrum – they feel like a band who also find themselves staring into the abyss but rather than trying to summon up so much nihilistic rage that the abyss itself would be forced to respect them Pallbearer gaze into the void at the heart of everything and wish to raise a glass to everyone who has to bear witness to it alongside them. As filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki once said, “Life is too sad to bear and there is no hope for anyone. So now, let us drink to happy endings.” Pallbearer are that mindset, if you’ll excuse the pun, riff large, an aural embrace that proves that doom has more nuance to it than many give it credit for. In short – it may be doom, but it ain’t all gloom.