Pallbearer have achieved a somewhat strange level of popularity for a doom metal band. This is almost certainly due to Pitchfork, the darling of the indie music scene, giving their most recent album Foundations of Burden a glowing review and stamped it with “Best New Music.” I decided to give it a shot.
I’ll start by saying that this is my most listened to album over the past two weeks. This is not to say I think it is good. It is merely because when I’m at a loss for what to listen to, I just throw this on to see if its genius will reveal itself to me this time around.
Why, oh why, did every review I read compare this band to Deafheaven (you know, that indie band that plays “black metal” but sounds like My Bloody Valentine early 90’s shoegaze)? There is no comparison. Pallbearer, for the most part, plays doom with no indie rock influences (except for a few parts which we’ll get to).
The opening few tracks are pretty good. Part of what made me listen to this so many times is that I couldn’t really remember what it sounded like. The riffs aren’t very memorable. But they stick to their guns once they’ve laid down the main ideas of the song.
I like how they develop the material. The songs are epic in length, and they don’t overdo it. They are constantly shifting and developing the riffs. The development is slow, but constant and not too slow to get boring.
The clean singing vocal line is in nice counterpoint to the band. Each song builds to a climactic moment, but honestly the volume and instrumentation don’t distinguish these moments that much. In fact, a lot of this album feels static. I’m not sure if this is a mixing issue, or a compositional issue.
Let’s get to the elephant in the room. Periodically, the band does break into a 4/4 traditional rock sound and feel. I don’t really see the point. These are usually small sections of a 10 minute song. The song would still be long if it were cut, and then there would be stylistic continuity. This would make a really good doom album if that happened.
Also, there is a 3 minute song “Ashes” plopped in there, and the song could have been written and played by Sigur Rós. I’m still sort of convinced it is Sigur Rós. What is that about?
Overall, I think Pallbearer have a lot of potential. They understand doom and song development, but I think they suffer from trying too hard to be “original” and break conventions. In some sense, they are still trying to find their voice, and when this happens they’ll be great. Until then, I give this a 6.5/10. Here’s a sample:
I’ve never really understood Earth. I still remember when The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull came out, and everyone told me it was the greatest thing they had ever heard. I found it extremely boring and uninteresting. Earth have made their name on combining minimalism with something like doom (I know, some people will say it is drone).
Still, I decided to give them another shot with Primitive and Deadly getting a lot of rave reviews. I’ll say up front that I like this a lot more than the previously mentioned album. The polished production make Earth sound more modern than Pallbearer. There’s a lot of distortion, but it is so judiciously added in that the whole band sounds very clean to me.
The minimalism isn’t quite as extreme on this album. It still has a ton of repetition, but at least stuff is going on. Earth traditionally is all instrumental, but they have a guest vocalist on this album for some tracks. Honestly, I think this was a mistake.
The first track has no vocals, and they put a lot of effort into making sure the song doesn’t sound like accompaniment. All instruments work together to create a piece of instrumental music that stands on its own.
In the pieces with vocals, the minimalism is just too much for me, because the instrumental work is designed for accompaniment. The vocals try to cover this up, but those songs really drag. They contain less interesting riffs/rhythm/harmony/development/etc.
I understand that bands like Earth aren’t going for traditional song making. The point is for the listener to get lost in the repetition. The song isn’t meant to “develop,” but to have small deviations from the pattern that seem big to someone lost in the music. I think the first track succeeds in this. The vocals are a misplay in my opinion, because they pull you out of the trance. They are way too prominent, and then the song just falls as repetitive and boring.
I don’t hate the album, and my disclaimer that I’ve never been able to get into them means I probably shouldn’t be reviewing it at all. I give this a 6/10. Here’s a sample: