Review Summary: Improvement without losing essence.
To say expectations were high for the Little Rock natives second LP would be quite an understatement. With one hell of a debut album, they not only garnered but earned the attention and respect of several well regarded and highly thought of publications--this, with the caveat of being a metal band through and through. So with the release of Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer have pushed themselves to improve in almost every facet of their sound without sacrificing any of the heart that gained them such acclaim in the first place.
Foundations of Burden from start to finish is lush and rhythmic. Filled to the brim with crunchy guitar tones, groove-inducing rhythms and a slow yet staggering sense of dynamics in song composition. Everything on Foundations of Burden is bigger than its predecessor, Sorrow and Extinction--the riffs hit harder, the vocals convey more emotion, the bass is thicker and the drums are more bombastic. All this while retaining a genuine feeling and mood, highlighted on several tracks by the implementation of piano provided by Joseph D. Rowland for a gradual but steady build up that lends to the budding sense of ecclesial, even so far as ritualistic atmosphere. Perhaps one of the more cited criticisms of their first album was the vocal delivery of Brent Campbell but on Foundations of Burden, most would agree that Campbell has greatly improved. The cleans are sung with more confidence and pair well when used as harmonies with other band members. "The Ghost I Used To Be" even sees Pallbearer use a more gang shout approach as a homage to some of their influences like Type O Negative. This record continues Pallbearer's use of distinct and varied guitar melodies. When they aren't coming down with full force they are often used to accentuate the interesting arrangements composed by the band. Take opener "Worlds Apart" which employs a somewhat oriental flavor to the melodies and although those may not be firmly rooted in doom metal territory they nonetheless allow Pallbearer to explore different song compositions and stylings without sacrificing the heaviness of said genre.
What becomes notable or at the very least, comes to mind on every track, save for maybe the brilliant, almost exclusively piano driven interlude "Ashes" is that Pallbearer have employed a natural sense of dynamics in each song--meaning that they rise and fall inherently. Nothing is forced on this album. Each track builds on the monstrous riffs and thunderous bass tone to a climax and cathartic release crushing expectations and simultaneously showing a penchant for timelessness. The music plods to the beat of barely a heart palpitation and in the same song the band can erupt into dense, groove oriented heavy metal rhythms excellently demonstrated by closer "Vanished" and in the midst of it all, Pallbearer are never hurried or do they become stagnant. It's that timelessness that bands like Black Sabbath, Candlemass and Pink Floyd (all of which Pallbearer have modeled their sound after) which Foundations of Burden pays respect to. While Sorrow and Extinction may have received all the accolades as an album that proved to the masses that metal was still alive and well in 2012, Foundations of Burden may be that album that in twenty years from now people look back at nostalgically as being essentially what well executed metal sounded like in 2014.