Put Rush and My Bloody Valentine in a blender, add a pinch of 80’s Metallica and garnish liberally with 90’s Tool and you’d have something approaching the aural transmutation of Pallbearer, the most cerebrally technical and gloriously prog leaning of all the bands currently swept up in the current retro doom revival. Pallbearer’s songwriting chops, vocal aptitude and penchant for lush compositions have gained them a following akin to a more ethereal, psychadelic version of hard rock gods Mastodon and Baroness, something they do well not to shy away from on the pristine production and ambitious framework of new LP “Heartless”.
Pallbearer’s genre hopping, decade spanning arena prog constantly keeps the listener guessing, with headbang worthy crunch leading way to guitar harmonization that would make Brian May jealous, vocalist Brett Campbell’s operatic croon the perfect accompaniment to the soaring, fantasy metal journeys that “Heartless” gives flight to. “Thorns” plows in with a riff calling to mind Deftones’ classic “My Own Summer”, before venturing off on an A Perfect Circle-esque journey all its own, flanked by epic soloing and a hauntingly echoed vocal. “Cruel Road” lives up to its name, a driving tempo with some of the record’s most savage riff gymnastics, anthemic and majestic , almost approaching power metal levels of grandeur and scope.
For a grindcore nerd like myself, songs nearing and exceeding 12 minutes in length are a definite red flag, but on “Dancing In Madness” and especially monumental album closer “A Plea For Understanding”, Pallbearer craft compelling singular statements, mini albums in their own right. “…Understanding” in particular is a standout, a funereal dirge on the precipice of utter hopelessness, only to be drawn back from the brink at the climax, but only just.
Recorded on analog tape and mixed by Soundgarden / Melvins / Queens of the Stone Age vet Joe Baressi, Pallbearer’s sound is reverent to their myriad of influences without being derivative of any, an amazing feat given the pedigree of their sonic alchemy. I really can’t stress enough how great the writing is here though, of all the things Pallbearer get right on this release, it all flows forth from the slavish devotion these guys clearly put into their songcraft. Due to that laser focus, “Heartless” is a devastating proclamation, both heavy in the metal sense and also the emotional one, worming its way into the ear and the heart long after the record is over. Pallbearer is a band out of time in our time, and for that I am grateful.