By the middle part of the decade, Arkansas’ Pallbearer had released two stunning monoliths of doom; their powerful debut album Sorrow And Extinction and it’s equally impressive follow up Foundations Of Burden. On these two records the quartet exhibited many of the traits one would expect to find within the doom genre, from the crushingly heavy, mournful riffs to songs that run comfortably beyond the ten minute mark. But beyond these hallmarks there was a sense the band had something more to offer to set them apart from their peers. Laced throughout the oppressive doom of these two albums was a great sense of melancholy melody, coupled with subtle, underlying influences of prog and post-metal. Simply put, they weren’t just “another doom band”.
This was proven On 2017’s Heartless, as Pallbearer’s emotive songwriting reached new heights. Some of the fat had been trimmed (this is the first of the band’s releases to feature more songs under the ten minute mark than over) and the production was noticeably clearer, allowing the vocal melodies of Brett Campbell to soar effortlessly above the mountainous riffage below. With an instantly memorable guitar refrain, the mighty ‘I Saw The End’ opens the album in spectacular fashion, showcasing not just how well the four members of Pallbearer are interlocked but also how far the band have come as songwriters. Compared to their first two releases, the pace was picked up somewhat in places too, with tracks such as ‘Cruel Road’ and the driving ‘Thorns’ displaying influences of both prog rock and self-titled era Alice In Chains.
Heartless is also home to the best song the band have written thus far, ‘A Plea For Understanding’. The longest track on offer here, not a second is wasted on this slow-paced and reflective ballad, which is filled to the brim with melancholic melodies and sorrowful guitar leads. The three minute plus intro alone is packed with many memorable and stirring guitar lines that linger long after the track has finished. The lyrics too are incredibly moving as Campbell, in his best performance to date, yearns “I just want to give to you, all that you have given me, my searching heart cries for this.”
The attention to detail, the confidence to subtly incorporate other influences into their sound and also the band’s willingness to wear their hearts on their sleeves makes Heartless one of the defining albums of the past decade. Pleasingly, this is also only their third album and with album number four currently being written, the next decade is theirs for the taking.