Pallbearer’s debut full-length, Sorrow and Extinction, impressed many upon its release with its utterly sincere take on traditional doom metal. It combined the core elements of Black Sabbath with the drama of Candlemass and the snail-paced crawl of funeral doom such as Evoken. It resulted in a very likable and worthwhile release that had many metalheads, young and old, raising their horns in approval, rocking out to the album’s wall of guitar sludge and soaring lead lines. Foundations of Burden, their latest offering, was met with even more acclaim from fans and critics than its predecessor, with Decibel in particular calling it a “goddamn masterpiece” and naming it Album of the Year. However, The Needle Drop criticized it for its lack of contrast and gave it a mere 5 out of 10.
Unfortunately, Mr. Fantano makes a decent point. Foundations of Burden oftentimes feels like a massive barrage of parts glued together into one big, long song, and it has the potential to be very difficult to listen through in one sitting. While some albums that are “massive barrages” can be amazing (see my review of Pig Destroyer’s Prowler in the Yard), Foundations of Burden moves at way too slow a pace to justify doing so, as to be expected from a genre which moves so slow it can impede time for the person listening to it. Almost all these tracks breach the ten minute mark and feel too obtuse for their own good, resulting in a very tiring listen that, again, can be difficult to get through even for those who were in love with their debut. In all, this album feels like it was given way too much fertilizer and then overgrew the planter box the band put it in.
This isn’t to say that the album is no good, not at all. Musically, the band is pushing themselves creatively way harder than they did on Sorrow and Extinction. The songs here sprawl and explore in a way that was only hinted at on Sorrow, and while they do feel a little too big much of the time, if one looks closely at any individual track they are likely going to be impressed with the way they swell, recede, twist, and turn. The production is also a step up from its predecessor as well. Sorrow felt quite muddy at times while Foundations sounds sharper with more treble coming out in the mix, but without sacrificing the heaviness of the guitars and drums that makes the band so heavy to begin with. The epic lead guitar melodies that were played with on Sorrow and Extinction also make a triumphant return on this album; just listen to the beginning of “Worlds Apart” to hear one of the most gorgeous lead lines you’re bound to hear this year, or any year for that matter. While the album sounds very good, it can still be a chore to dedicate an hour listening to.
Pallbearer is no doubt an impressive band, and they may well deserve the “saviors of doom” tag they sometimes get, but there has to be more contrast between songs to heighten the impact on the listener going forward from here. Without it, we’re left with something that feels like one very long dirge into doomsville, something a doom metal record should actually avoid. This may not be Pallbearer’s “goddamn masterpiece”, but it firmly sets them on the road to something that has the potential to entitle themselves as the Kings of Doom.