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Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden

As followups to critically-hailed debut records go, Pallbearer’s Foundations of Burden checks many of the expected boxes. The production from the legendary Billy Anderson is cleaner, brighter, and clearer. The sonic palette has the requisite amount of expansion without compromising what brought people to Pallbearer in the first place. Structurally we’re in much the same ballpark as Sorrow: aside from a short, pretty Rhodes-driven interlude that flirts with pop, there are five roughly ten-minute songs that create a cycle. The band executes so well that despite the lack of curveballs, Foundations is exhilarating from front to back.

Pallbearer are still expanding classic doom’s emotional range in every direction. With Foundations of Burden, their wingspan has widened. The heavy passages are heavier, the playing is noticeably nimbler. The drumming by newcomer Mark Lierly has an agility driving the songs in a new direction. Joseph Rowland’s bass is constantly roiling, Cisneros-like, beneath the surface. The placid sections are more affecting, breaking up passages that are eviler than before. The cleanliness of the production has unveiled flavors of prog and psychedelia that were buried on Sorrow. The five epics here are composed within an inch of their lives, no wasted motion, no riffs that last too long, always foreshadowing something exciting around the corner.

Take “Watcher in the Dark,” the standout on an album of standouts. It starts with Brett Campbell and Devin Holt’s guitars winding around each other, repeating a chord progression that sounds beautiful and frightening all at once. The song takes two minutes to build to a crush and then drops out entirely, giving way to an absolutely brutal doom riff straight out of Mike Scheidt’s playbook. Soon a shimmering lead guitar kicks in over the aforementioned brutality. It wouldn’t feel out of place on an Agalloch song, and as Brett Campbell howls, the crescendo builds to a ripping classic rock guitar solo. The outro unfolds with piano hits and a relentless bass attack, finally turning towards a progged-out vocal section along with soaring soloing. It’s jammy and elegiac in equal measure, containing so many different threads that are all the more remarkable for coexisting cohesively.

The riffs, earth-shaking and continually inventive, are every bit the selling point that they should be. This is, first and foremost, great, crushing doom, made all the more so by the newfound sonic clarity. From the immediately gripping first riff of “Worlds Apart,” which slays like any good Cathedral-worship should, Pallbearer are in full command of the language they’ve developed by way of obvious reference points (Sabbath, Candlemass, Sleep). They’ve studied newer forms too: the strikingly melodic riff that makes up the body of “Watcher in the Dark” almost feels like slowed-down, late-period Mastodon. Closer “Vanished” operates for a while on a similarly deliberate level as contemporaries like Samothrace and Bell Witch before launching into a legitimate fist-pumper of a riff.

The trick of managing all of these sounds with a straight face and an allegiance to the sonic template they introduced with such confidence on Sorrow and Extinction is something the band manages with the illusion of astonishing ease that only comes from profound care. That the band’s avowed affection for Boston and Rainbow is communicated without sacrificing mournfulness and heft is another thing to be impressed by. Much of this integrative ease comes from Anderson’s lush production, but still more comes from the attention to songcraft. Where Sorrow and Extinction was notable for its commitment to despair, Foundations of Burden opens things up to new colors and emotions. That first record suffocated the listener with its weight and gravity. Foundations envelops you in its dense, layered shades of darkness.

— Rob Sperry-Fromm

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