When listening to Forgotten Days (Nuclear Blast), Pallbearer’s fourth full-length, it’s hard to remember a time when they were ever this riff-driven. The title track sets an immediate precedent with its beginning feedback transitioning into pummeling yet catchy verses, a surprisingly hooky chorus, and a softer bridge that manages to keep the momentum going. ‘The Quicksand Of Existing’ and ‘Vengeance Ruination’ serve up even more heaviness in the album’s second half with the former’s straightforward chugs standing out. Considering past jabs I’ve made about Pallbearer being one of the most riff-adverse groups in Doom Metal, it’s a very refreshing change of pace.
Ghost Cult spoke to Joseph D. Rowland, bassist and founder member of Arkansas creative heavyweights Pallbearer, who discussed with grace and enthusiasm the band’s sophomore opus, Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore), and their upcoming US and European tours.
I started by asking how two guys from a blackened noise band (Joseph and Pallbearer vocalist / guitarist Brett Campbell‘s partnership originated in Little Rock metal band Sports) came to create music with such harmonised tendencies?
I wouldn’t really classify Sports in those terms. Our sound then was always improvised, sometimes there would be terrifying, harsh sound, others would feature ethereal soundscapes. We’re into all kinds of music outside of extreme metal, especially progressive rock – I have a background of studying classical music which did help me develop a love for the melodic. I guess that’s where it stems from.
I remark that while every member of Pallbearer seems crucial to the sound but Brett Campbell’s voice, with its remarkable range, is an outstanding feature.
There are some similarities in both of the bands we’ve been in. I think Brett took some of the ideas and aesthetic he was going for with Sports, and put them into a more concrete focus for Pallbearer. It definitely has that other-worldly melodicism to it I guess. I feel like what Brett is doing is coming from a different place than a lot of other bands that other people would want to lump us in with, such as Conan or Procession.
Pallbearer’s new album Foundations Of Burden is a more lush, progressive beast than its predecessor. I wondered if this was an organic progression for the band?
We said from the get-go that we didn’t want to make ‘Sorrow And Extinction II’. We wanted to challenge ourselves, working-in more dynamics, tempo changes, that kind of stuff. It still feels like an album you can listen to it in one continuous piece, but there’s more variation going on throughout so it may be a little easier to listen to one single song too. We wanted to keep the whole thing interesting. I still love ‘Sorrow…’ but it does keep rather a similar pace in comparison to the new album.
Joseph and Brett share the lyrical duties which has produced some deeply emotional, moving words with staggering imagery.
For me it’s come from more of a personal space this time. There’s definitely something I tend to gravitate towards when I’m writing, an imagery I’m pulling from an almost dream-like state, as if it wouldn’t be hard for people to recognise but something that might not exist in our reality. Brett’s, I would say, are a little broader and looking more at humanity, though I don’t want to speak too much for him. We kind of like to keep it to ourselves. One reason I try not to delve too deeply into what the lyrics are about is that is when others can really get into that space and feel a kind of ownership, a connection with what the lyrics are really about. That’s how I’ve connected with words others have written.
So does every member of the band have an equal part to play in the creation process?
For the most part it starts out with either Brett or I working on material separately. Once we get stuff solidified we all come together and that’s when everybody starts to contribute and things might get changed a little bit, arrangements may get switched around. We’ll start editing down how many repeats there are, and tightening up the way the transitions work. That’s where the whole band really factors in.
I wondered if, with more vocal duties for both Joseph and guitarist Devin Holt, plus bigger soundscapes and occasionally more complex structures, the new album displays a growth of freedom and confidence since ‘Sorrow…’?
Oh definitely. When we completed the first album we’d only really done a handful of local shows. At the point between that and finishing the new one we’ve played all over the world in front of a lot of people. That practice has instilled a lot of confidence in us (and) I certainly feel a better player than when the first album came out. Also, our drummer Mark Lierly has been with us for two years now, so just being that solid band has helped tighten up what we’re doing.
There’s a subtle, but strikingly effective, piano section in ‘Watcher in the Dark’ (from the new album) that’s attributed to Joseph. Did you sense a bigger personal role in this album?
Well, this time we were in a much bigger studio; they had a Fender Rhodes there, several pianos, various other things we were able to experiment with and figure out ways that it could fit in without being too over the top about it! We were still pretty judicious about it.
It must have been like kids in a sweet shop!
Yeah, we probably could’ve spent a lot of time and gone really far-out with it! But it is really fulfilling to be able to expand into a bigger set of instrumentation. Any of us could’ve been capable of adding lots of stuff in there, we’re all multi-instrumentalists in some way. It just so happened that for this album we felt it worked best in that context. It might be something that we explore further in the future too.
I find Foundations… an emotional rollercoaster with despair and, paradoxically, hope in there too. With the band beginning a worldwide tour very soon, I wondered how this would translate to a live setting?
We played a few cuts off it every night on the stateside tour with Deafheaven in June. There are some aspects, multiple lead guitars for example, that we can’t really do live. But being able to go out and do the finished arrangements of the stuff was great once we locked in and scraped the rust off! The new songs are powerful for me, there’s a lot of raw emotion in them, and they’re more challenging to play too, but so far they’ve translated to the live setting well. We’ve been playing the other songs for three years now, even before Sorrow… came out, so it feels like forever!
The UK and European leg in September will see a lip-smacking pairing with Yob, with both bands plugging new albums at the time. I asked how the band felt about their first UK outing?
Oh, man, I’m really excited. I really love Yob. We played a show with them a couple of years ago and they’re really nice, gracious guys so we’re looking forward to spending some time out on the road with them. My family is from the UK, also, and I’ve never been able to get over there, so it’s going to be pretty awesome for me. We have five or six shows in the UK and to be travelling around there for a week is something I’m really excited about personally.
The US leg sees accompaniment from Tombs and Vattnet Viskar. It seems like a slightly darker accompaniment?
It wasn’t necessarily planned out to reflect that. We like to have a varied line-up on things that we do. I really hate tour packages where every band plays the same sort of music. Both Tombs and Vattnet Viskar have a lot of dynamics and explore a lot of territory too, but do tend more toward the darker side of things. It’s gonna be Fall time over here when we’re out so I guess it’ll fit the atmosphere of the days! I’m really looking forward to it.
Finally, what’s the future for Pallbearer?
I guess we’re going to be touring a lot, and we’ve already started working on material for the next album, whenever that’ll be! We generally take a long time to write but when we were working on Foundations… we had a lot of stuff in the works. We ended up going with these six songs but there are a lot more fragments to work with now. There’s also stuff I’ve been working on that’s just not heavy at all: I’m trying to decide if it works in the Pallbearer concept, and it’ll be a while before I really figure that out.
Foundations… ballad ‘Ashes’ would seem to bear out Joseph’s last statement. Atmospheric, and achingly delivered, it’s indicative of a band unafraid of taking steps others would consider too risky. This unwillingness to conform to the confines of the doom genre marks out Pallbearer as one of the most important and exciting bands within it right now. Mixing a heavy profundity with the lightness of air, Foundations of Burden is one of the best albums of recent years, and some of the intimate settings they and Yob are soon to frequent will not hold them for long.
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.