Arkansas doomsters Pallbearer have, over the course of three albums, made something of a name for themselves. Their debut record Sorrow & Extinction showed a band with tremendous potential and a love of melancholy as well as a sense of yearning melodicism. Followup Foundations of Burden cemented their status in the scene and yet it was still only their second album. With their third effort Heartless they expanded their sonic palette far more into the 70s prog they’d always dabbled in but never fully embraced, eschewing traditional structure in place of meandering compositions that were still emotionally arresting and heavy as anything. Now onto their fourth album and with expectations sky-high given the peerless quality of the preceding albums, Pallbearer are returning to their roots with Forgotten Days.
As the title suggests, the album most often deals with time, often through the lens of loss as both vocalists Brett Campbell (guitar, vocals) and Joseph Rowland (bass, vocals) have dealt with losses over the years from Rowland losing his terminally mother during the demo sessions for what became their debut, to a member of Campbell’s family Alzheimers’ progression. It’s immediately apparent as ever, both lyrically and musically, that Forgotten Days is steeped in melancholy, sadness and some attempt to come to terms with the passage of time.
From the intonation of “Dark clouds move closer/ At the edges of my mind/ Obscuring, consuming/ My perception of time” on the opening title track to “Cries for deliverance/ Echo through halls of pain/ This ritual of violence/ Yet another link in the never-ending chain” on ‘Vengeance & Ruination’, the lyricism on display is poignant and truly outstanding. It’s especially interesting given that Campbell and Rowland have said they write lyrics separately but always end up back on the same page.
Forgotten Days crescendos steadily throughout the first half from the title track opener to 'Riverbed', that locks in a lumbering groove with a weeping melody to centrepiece ‘Silver Wings’, a twelve minute opus that stitches together several styles across multiple movements. It's capped off with a midsection that flows from haunting melodies to weeping solo and back. Despite its length it doesn’t drag and ‘The Quicksand of Existing’ ensures the album loses none of its pace, despite its funereal speed.
Throughout Forgotten Days’ 53 minute runtime, lumbering riffs entwine with serpentine melodies and tar-thick grooves that are monumentally heavy without being oppressive. Calling on the classic doom sounds of Black Sabbath and Candlemass, all eight tracks ebb and flow gracefully, finding beauty in the darkest of places without quite seeing the light at the end of the tunnel but coming to terms with the darkness.
Simply put, Pallbearer craft monolithic slabs of doom shot through with a healthy dose of 70s prog and an ear for melody that stands them head and shoulders above their peers. This is sheer musical catharsis that hearkens back to their earlier works while still pushing their sound further. They’ve never been just a doom band; their myriad influences and frankly astounding songwriting nous has always resulted in songs that are heavy without oppressing, forlorn but enthralling in their beauty and mournfulness. Forgotten Days makes clear that Pallbearer are still refining and exploring their sound and is by far their finest work to date and one of the finest albums of this year..
Forgotten Days is out Friday 23rd via Nuclear Blast.