If you felt the debut album from Arkansas quartet Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction, contained some of the most emotive doom ever, think again. New album Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore) is an adventurous journey through space for the lost, solitary soul on their way to meet their maker.
Weighty, yet melancholic and melodic, much like its predecessor it is shot through with a healthy dose of the best of ’70s radio rock, nonetheless there are noticeable differences here. The first of these is the sacrifice of a small amount of Sorrow…‘s heaviness in favour of a more textured, progressive sound. There is also the addition of harmonised backing vocals which, far from detracting from overall enjoyment, shows the evolution of a highly skilled, creative unit, unafraid to escape its comfort zone.
Opener ‘Worlds Apart’ has a number of movements, flowing from a crunching mid-paced opening into a mid-section of guided atmospherics with the coda of staggering effects-laden leads accompanied by funereal, subterranean riffs, all wonderfully decorated by Brett Campbell‘shoneyed yet soaring vocals. The ensuing ‘Foundations’ begins with complex yet deliberate rhythms, the sound of a burning rocket having developed a slightly woven path of orbit, those deliciously doleful tones seemingly lamenting yet justifying its straying from the line.
‘Watcher in the Dark’ is a mournful titan with an apocalyptic central duel of leads and coruscating riffs rising from a sparkling rhythm section and Joseph D. Rowland‘s MOR-style piano, to a remarkable and euphoric finale. Mark Lierly’s drums are increasingly dictatorial and demand attention, whilst the resonant solo work descends to a languid tone before a moving explosion of sorrow, with Campbell’s towering tones an aching call to the wilderness. Lush synths ease into the evocative, phenomenal, ‘The Ghost I Used to Be’ as Campbell’s voice fluctuates between Ozzy Osbourne and Steve Perry before the riff taking centre stage, orchestrating time changes, leading to an amazing closing solo. Unbelievably, even this staggering behemoth is surpassed by a stroke of genius – the heart-breaking beauty of the brief, delicate ballad ‘Ashes’, a track that would be at home on any Styx record, yet still retains an air of gravity. Closer ‘Vanished’ displays all that power and subtlety, possessing a booming production that heightens the contrast of resonant, harmonic chants and the fulminating power of riff and drums.
Superlatives and panegyrics are thrown around like confetti these days, and mostly for albums that just don’t deserve them. Here is an entity beyond words. The blend of crushing weight and sadness that twines with an almost paradoxical ascension to light throughout this quite magnificent set is sublime and inspirational. If the prog-rock outfit Kansas suffered a year of deep personal loss, down-tuned to hell, and proceeded to embody the grief and subsequent healing in an album, the result would be Foundation of Burden. This willingness to puncture doom’s boundaries and travel outside them surely hails Pallbearer as the most important band of their genre right now.