24th March 2017 – Nuclear Blast Records
01. I Saw the End
03. Lie of Survival
04. Dancing in Madness
05. Cruel Road
07. A Plea for Understanding
March is upon us, and with it my first 2017 top-ten candidate. Foundations Of Burden did more than just turn heads for Pallbearer; it sent them out on tour with some of doom’s stalwarts and put them on a lot of watchlists, and their melodic take on revivalist doom blended with tuneful warmth winning the hearts of many. But now it’s 2017 – it’s New Album Time – what have they done to expand on their triumphs?
Pallbearer’s previous success has placed them in the camp of people who could legitimately drop a Blue Record or a Hunter – a real paradigm-shift record, albeit in its own reasonably narrow niche. I don’t think Heartless is this release. I had a great time with it and they’ve made leaps on their sound since Foundations Of Burden, but sadly this isn’t the record that’ll be etched into the annals of twinkly doom history.
Flexing poppier, riffier muscles, Heartless opens with the single “I Saw the End“, which jumps into an excellent example of Pallbearer’s trademark melodic riffs. There’s a warmth to the vocals that was such a great part of Foundations Of Burden, and here they’re front and centre. The early songs outline the direction of the record as gloomy but it’s not until “Lie of Survival” that the record holds back a bit and some slower tempos are introduced. Never a band to disguise their influences, I hear as much Dire Straits as I do Rush or Black Sabbath here; the soft-rock sensibilities reigning in some of the prog dalliances.
There are some surprises later on; “Heartless” starts with a brief acoustic passage before jumping into the album-defining sound pretty quickly with one of the more complex riffs. Concluding with the maudlin “A Plea for Understanding” works excellently; they’ve bookmarked the record effectively, ending with a chilled-out space-y track for breathing space. This is one of the more nakedly sad tracks on Heartless; with the lyrical simplicity and the note-heavy riffs it summarises a lot of the techniques that make this record work.
I’m glad that Pallbearer didn’t go too far down the trad-doom route; they had far too fresh a sound to get trapped there. In fact, I wish this record had been more shamelessly poppy; I wish they’d really streamlined their songwriting chops. I came for the hooks, and though they’re here in no short measure I wish the record had been even more vocally focussed- after all, Pallbearer have some of the best clean vocals in the game. I was hoping for some tempos other than “quite slow” and “very slow” – “Dancing in Madness” picks up a little with an angry, riffy section towards the middle but the lack of variation in tempo is noticeable.
Ultimately I wasn’t disappointed with this record, and if you enjoyed Pallbearer’s previous outings then here you’ll surely enjoy an accomplished band honing their abilities to become more textured, powerful and emotionally direct. Featuring a wider range of material than they’ve explored previously, Heartless pre-emptively digs Pallbearer out of a dad-doom hole with which they had threatened themselves. If this review seems a little harsh it’s only because such great things are expected, and infinitely within their grasp – and really, is it such a bad thing to conclude that the best is yet to come?