Pallbearer - Foundations Of Burden

Pallbearer don’t sound like Black Sabbath. Or they do, sort of, but only to the extent that early Low sounds like a Phil Spector girl group, or that second-album Bon Iver sounds like Bruce Hornsby. The influence is there, clearly audible, underpinning everything Pallbearer do. But it’s all filtered through waves upon waves of oceanic gloop, melting and warping and refracting that original sound until it’s something entirely different. It’s the Sabbath sound when heard through a couple of different Babelfish filters. If, for instance, Iron Maiden were a sped-up drama-class version of Black Sabbath, then Pallbearer sound something like a DJ Screw remix of Iron Maiden, or like Iron Maiden after they’ve been petrified in black tar for a few thousand years. Pallbearer trade in triumphant leads and instinctive juddering caveman riffage and higher-than-the-sun vocal wails, just like so many metal greats before them. But they don’t use those sonic ingredients to batter or scream. Instead, they fold them on top of each other, layering them up like blankets on a cold night, and slowing them down into psychedelic sludge.

There is, of course, an entire wing in the underground-metal castle dedicated to slowed-down variants on that elemental Sabbath crunch, and Pallbearer very much belong within it. But other doom metal bands seem to take their subgenre’s name seriously. Their music is all foreboding, ominous atmosphere — deep and rich and dark. Pallbearer’s first album was like that, too. Sorrow And Extinction, from 2012, won a ton of accolades from the metal side of the indie press, but I couldn’t hear it as much more than an impressive-enough take on a well-established sound. The new Foundations Of Burden is something else. For one thing, there’s nothing especially dark about it. It’s warm, humid music, music for staring at lava lamps and sinking into a happy haze, whether chemically aided or not. (My new thing is to throw on Foundations Of Burden and eat a really, really big lunch.) The sound is a lot fuller and more comforting than that of the first album, and while all the guitars in the mix are working together, they’re usually doing vastly different things, stomping or jangling or humming spectrally or picking out delicate little folk melodies. It all comes out sounding like doom metal’s hot, gooey center, rather than its forbidding outer shell.

Looking at the Foundations Of Burden tracklist, the first thing that jumps out at you is that the songs are long — five of the six hovering around the 10-minute mark, most of them over. But if that’s a stumbling block for you, it shouldn’t be. Each of the songs sounds like three or four songs in itself, moving from one section to another in woozily counterintuitive ways. Slow as they are, these songs would be a bitch to play in Guitar Hero — not because they’re long, but because they lurch between segments and riffs and time signatures so haphazardly that you’d never be able to fall into that bliss-out trance. (Maybe that’s why Pallbearer are so notoriously boring live; they have to put all their energy into remembering what to do next with their instruments.) But even with all those changes, the band never ruptures the mood that they build. Instead, this is a classic example of the album where you stop paying attention to where one song ends and another begins. As with something like DJ Shadow’s …Endtroducing, everything blurs into one seamless zone-out whole. And in fact, the only song that really jumps out as its own thing is “Ashes,” the sole short song, which sounds something like Beach House backing up a heavily sedated late-’70s Ozzy Osborne as he’s singing a deeply sad English folk song. There’s not a single sustained guitar-crunch on “Ashes,” but it’s very much in keeping with the feel of the album.

But Foundations Of Burden isn’t all atmosphere and artfully bongwater-drowned metal reference points. It’s an album full of grand, powerful melodies, arranged in interesting ways and built on top of each other like ancient ruins. Frontman Brett Campbell doesn’t grunt or roar; he actually sings, in a full-throated and angelic sort of way. Those clean vocals, combined with the heavy reverb on every element of the mix, goes a long way toward making Foundations Of Burden the rare metal album that won’t make you want to die if you hear it when you’re in the wrong mood. Foundations Of Burden is still very much a metal album, an album mindful of its place in the entire musical ecosystem and not interested in losing a core fanbase by going out chasing waterfalls. But it’s metal of a type that we don’t often hear: Luxuriant metal, opium-den metal, metal for putting every pillow in your house on your living room floor and then spending an entire afternoon sprawling across them all. Michael will probably want to punch me for using this term, but it’s soft metal — beautifully arranged, masterfully realized soft metal. It’s metal for floating away.

Foundations Of Burden is out today on Profound Lore.

Other notable albums this week:

• JJ’s sweeping, excellent big-pop move V.
• The Justin Vernon-led space-rap supergroup Jason Feathers’ debut De Oro.
• Take Over And Destroy’s death ’n’ roll shit-ripper Vacant Face.
• Castanets’ sad psychedelic folker Decimation Blues.
• Celebration’s operatic, art-damaged Albumin.
• Kimbra’s big-money weird-pop album The Golden Echo.
• Empire! Empire (I Was A Lonely Estate)’s emo-revival lament You Will Eventually Be Forgotten.
• Ex-Broken Social Scene duo AroarA’s unpredictable, poetry-inspired debut In The Pines.
• Bishop Allen’s dependably tuneful indie-popper Lights Out.
• Baked’s raw DIY debut Debt.
• Literature’s cheeky, jangling, anglophilic Chorus.
• Connections’ earnest, unpretentious punker Into Sixes.
• Dan Svizeny’s personal, home-recorded Every Weekend.
• Wiz Khalifa’s directionless commercial rap record Blacc Hollywood.
• Ryan Adams’ old-school hardcore 1984 EP.
• Flaming Lips side project Electric Würms’ Musik, Die Schwer Zu Twerk EP.

Comments (22)
  1. Seems about right. OWWWOOOOOOO!

  2. The JJ album took quite awhile to really sink in, and while there are unquestionably some things that don’t work well at all, what works is straight up beautiful. And the production is really some next-level stuff. I have no comment on this Pallbearer stuff as it just isn’t my particular thing, but damn this JJ record isn’t being hella underappreciated.

    ‘Full’ has to be one of the most beautiful songs written this year. And ‘All White Everything’, though not perfect, is a super great song. Proud of u JJ. Ur my album of the month.

  3. Well damn, I was going to post something about Botanist’s VI: Flora album, but the Bandcamp page says it came out on June 5. Just saw it on Invisible Oranges this week, so I guess it’s out on shelves now. But yeah, Foundations of Burden is damn good, even if it’s crucially lacking the lyrics about “Globose inriflorescences carried by the wind”.

  4. Slim pickings this week as expected in August. Next week is a different story with new LPs from Ty Segall, J Mascis, New Pornographers & Cymbals Eat Guitars……should be interesting.

  5. I didn’t find them boring in the least bit when I caught them. Maybe not as energetic as Enslaved or as intense as Royal Thunder (the other two acts who played with them) but I was sufficiently crushed.

  6. I just got it today and have only listened to it 1 1/2 times but so far I agree with the use of the word soft. Sorrow and Extinction had more of an edge to it (which I like) and this new one does seem smoother. The songwriting is amazing and the intricacies and variation of the guitar work are interesting. It is still heavy for sure but like a 1000 pound raincloud, not a giant boulder. I still think it is a grower and I’m not ready to say it is better than Sorrow quite yet but I am not disappointed. Yeah Pallbearer.

    I’m also really excited for the new Ty Segall record next week. The hits just keep coming.

  7. Well, it isn’t Kix, but it’ll do.

  8. was hoping this would be kimbra since it got canned by pitchfork and it deserves a retrial.

    • I haven’t listened to the album but I like “90s Music” and “Miracle” a lot. But what kind of year is it if Pitchfork *doesn’t* arbitrarily slag a record you’re enjoying?

  9. I agree, Stereogum. Weak week for music, but no complaints with the run we’ve had lately. Plus, Cymbals Eat Guitars coming soon. And Merchandise. Better stop writing about those ones for a bit.

  10. I friggin love jj. They rarely let me down….and the fact that every time I listen to them I want to swing in a hammock over white sand near tropical water makes them even more gorgeous to me.

  11. My tastes in metal tend less toward “epic and atmospheric” and more toward “riffy and restless” so Take Over and Destroy kills it this week for me.

  12. Yeah, this is definitely a weak week for releases. If do want to pick up this album it looks like the best place to buy it from is 7Digital. It’s only $7.74 there.

  13. « Frontman Brett Campbell doesn’t grunt or roar; he actually sings, in a full-throated and angelic sort of way. » You know, Metal isn’t only about grunting and roaring bands plus Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden,

    Pallbearer are one of many band following the path of Candlemass. That large genre called Doom Metal find its name with Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, Candlemass’s first album released in 1986. There’s Doom Metal bands with a growling singer and very very very slow music. There’s Doom Metal band with high Gothic influences. There’s Doom Metal band who’re Black Sabbath clones. There’s also Doom Metal band with really lyrical singer and really melodic and/or epic music like Candlemass.

    When I listen a song like Watcher in the Dark, I’m hearing something quite good, but not revolutionnary at all, except it’s a bit watered down for non-metalheads. When I read this review, I read someone who’s so puzzled about Metal than he needs to talk about Maiden and Guitar Hero and doesn’t know Metal isn’t always about darkness, noisy violence and screaming,

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