Doom and prog usually don’t mix well. The former is based around repetitive riffs and glacial tempos, whereas the latter places much more of a focus on technicality and virtuosity, two concepts which are utterly foreign to most doom musicians. There are a few doom acts that take influence from progressive elements, letting varied and complex instrumentation bob and weave through Rube Goldberg arrangements, but a true fusion between the two genres seems pretty unfeasible at first glance. Enter Pallbearer, traditional-style doomers from Little Rock, Arkansas who somehow manage to play a marriage of both that displays all of the best parts of both genres with few of their pitfalls. Pallbearer is able to mix a highly melodic and rhythmically complex progressive rock sensibility with the heavy funeral march of traditional doom metal riffs, and it works a lot better than I expected it to. Although the songs on the album do tend to blur together into an indistinguishable chunk of music, just about every minute of every song is enjoyable and rewarding to listen to in the extreme.
Although Pallbearer takes most of their influence from epic doom stalwarts like Candlemass and Warning, there’s lots of other stuff beneath the surface of their deep and shifting ocean of sound. While the riffs play a vital part in the music (as this is doom metal, after all), the spotlight is usually occupied by the harmonizing dual guitar solos of Brett Campbell and Devin Holt that almost sound like golden rays of sun breaking through dark and oppressive storm clouds. Although I worship riffs above all, it’s always nice to have a doom group put such a focus on melody and do it so well – I’m reminded of Samothrace’s Life’s Trade, an underrated classic of progressive-minded melodic death-doom that really needs more exposure. And this progressive influence I’ve been going on about synergizes incredibly well with the slow tempos of doom, resulting in melodically and rhythmically complex music that’s rewarding to listen to and is guaranteed to throw you for a loop, but is slow enough for you to actually comprehend what’s going on. Chuck Shaff (veteran of the respected Rwake) throws in plenty of fantastic syncopations to keep the usual trudge of doomy drums fresh and interesting, Joseph Rowland’s bass provides a solid bedrock for the riffs while throwing in a few melodic turns just under the surface, and Campbell provides a soaring vocal delivery reminiscent of such venerable tenor titans as Messiah Marcolin, or a less intolerably nasal Geddy Lee.*
As much as I did enjoy putting this record on loop for a few hours, there are points at which it does tend to drag a bit, and you can tell that the crew are on the verge of running out of ideas – the only noticeable change comes during the closer “Given To The Grave,” where what sounds like a Mellotron is added in somewhat superfluously. But the lacking moments are more than made up for by the glorious points in the music where one is almost completely overcome by the force of the perfect synergy between dark and heavy riffs and lighter melodies – the entirety of the aforementioned last track, the slow build to the opening-of-the-heavens climax on opener “Foreigner,” the phenomenally catchy riff that opens “The Legend,” the cathartic closing two minutes of “An Offering of Grief” – for a band’s first album, this is quite the achievement. If you’re a fan of either doom or progressive metal (or both), you really owe it to yourself to give this a listen. You will not be disappointed in the least.
*obligatory footnote about how much Rush sucks goes here**
**seriously, they fucking suck
Album: Sorrow and Extinction
Label: Profound Lore Records
Release Date: February 21st, 2012