Music Reviews
Foundations of Burden

Pallbearer Foundations of Burden

(Profound Lore) Rating - 8/10

If Pallbearer’s music could be constructed physically, the architecture would be astounding. I’m talking about the kind of ornate, towering gothic cathedrals, castles, and monestaries most people only encounter either backpacking across Europe or in fairy tales. But rather than making up the brick & mortar, the quartet’s part in these colossal structures is far more aural. It’s in the musty air that fills high cathedral ceilings, the wet electricity in the surrounding sky as storms roll in, the despair-riddled looks on the faces of statues and stained-glass, and the lonely ghosts doomed to haunt empty halls that one would find the richly detailed – yet – broodingly atmospheric doom metal the Little Rock, Arkansas band specializes in. And while doom metal is typically considered too droll and meandering for most non-metal fans to penetrate, Foundations of Burden transcends the genre so well that submerging oneself in the album’s striking melodies and crushing riffs feels almost effortless.

I say almost because despite the level of accessibility Pallbearer brings to an otherwise niche genre, there is absolutely nothing effortless about the band’s music. Of course, anyone who’s listened to Sorrow & Extinction, the band’s surprisingly strong debut, can vouch for this, for while their debut did offer a brand of melodic, smokey-riffed doom metal those uninitiated can appreciate, the album required a ton of patience regardless. For every moment that felt towering, cavernous, or like staring into an endless abyss (or even all three at once), each slow-churned riff and skyward melody was meticulously crafted to bring compositions as far into the stratosphere as possible, all while making everything feel earthy and rusted, like it had existed for ages.

Foundations of Burden, on the other hand, feels even more adept to appeal to a wider range of music fans than its predecessor, though certainly without easing up on ambition and effort. In fact, the band’s sophomore album feels even more gargantuan and all-encompassing than anything they’ve done yet, with most tracks soaring over the ten-minute mark and constantly morphing between ideas and landscapes, making each track feel like its own self-contained adventure. This might not sound all-too different from their debut, and on the surface, they’re still the same band. But with the recognition they received early on potentially affording them greater means of production, Pallbearer took full advantage to make Foundations sound as robust and alive as possible, unearthing each element of their debut and allowing all the feedback and drum crashes to float angelically. The jump in production quality certainly allowed the group to further realize some prettier concepts, like the lush, Bon Iver-reminiscent Ashes, but much of the production muscle is thankfully spent flexing the groups heavier, more bombastic qualities, making their latest both their prettiest and loudest album yet.

The jump in production is especially beneficial, however, for the vocals, which already set Pallbearer apart from their throat-shredding peers thanks to Brett Campbell’s melodic, Ozzy-inspired vocal approach. It seems daring these days for a metal vocalist to use a clean vocal approach, especially when you make music as heavy and foreboding as Pallbearer does, but instead of dirtying things up on album two, Campbell’s vocals are more confident and pristine than ever before, with Foundations taking a greater interest in multi-tracked vocals on tracks like opener Worlds Apart. This might sound counterintuitive on an album as bone-rattling as this, but added sheen and attention to detail allows every quake of emotion from Campbell’s voice, whether triumphant or sorrowful, to not only come alive, but resound in high definition surround sound.

With all of this precision and attention to detail going into making each track on Foundations of Burden as sonically and emotionally grand as possible, it may seem like the band’s latest would be even more daunting and impenetrable than their debut. But while Foundations is certainly an album that no less requires patience and active listening to thoroughly enjoy, Pallbearer make great strides in their song-craft to allow easier entry while still maintaining their intricacy, especially in the beginnings of their tracks. Instead of starting out on the low end of a painstakingly building crescendo, each track begins with its own unique voice and statement of purpose, whether it be the light-as-air guitar leads on Worlds Apart and The Ghost I Used To Be or the straight-up bulldozer stoner rock of Foundations. From there, these compositions kaleidoscopically shape shift in elegant ways which maintain each tracks own identity while never staying still for too long, earning the most mileage of each 10 minute stretch and never allowing them to sound boring.

The foundation of Pallbearer’s latest opus is built from a number of different entities, whether it’s earth-shattering power, heavenly triumph and beauty, or soul-crushing sorrow and plight, and each is undoubtedly handled with the loving touch of a renaissance painter. But whether you’re a seasoned doom metal vet or a newcomer to metal altogether, you’ll find little burden in the walls and high ceilings Pallbearer have built.