Review Summary: Slightly lost, but never forgotten.
I have to admit, I was pretty sceptical back in the day when I'd first heard about Pallbearer. Reading in my local Metal Hammer magazine about the band's emotional and melancholic fusion of classic prog and doom led me to believe that even before hearing the album, Foundations of Burden
wasn't exactly going to be up my alley. It was mostly my fault to be fair, considering the most I'd gotten out of the doom scene in the 21st Century was stoner doom at its most electrifying (Dopethrone
), Satanic (Satan Worshipping Doom
) or downright miserable (Songs of Darkness, Words of Light
). Clearly, I had a lot more to explore in the sub-genre, because upon hearing Pallbearer's sophomore effort, I was guided to giving so many more doom metal releases a deeper focus to see what I could get.
Over the course of the last few months, Forgotten Days
may not have resonated well with the masses, but then again isn't this just a sense of dejá-vu from the initial hype of Heartless
? I've seen comments berating the band for being boring, song previews sounding incomplete, even claims that Pallbearer are going through the motions. Whether or not you believe any of these statements from Youtube users, you have to admit that the band's latest full-length is heading for a different direction. In its first couple of minutes, the opening title track has more in common with Crack the Skye
-era Mastodon than it does anything on Foundations of Burden
. The melodic, heartfelt vocal work naturally reflects the rest of Pallbearer's discography, but something about "Forgotten Days" seems to render it a much more accessible song than at first thought. It doesn't really matter about the length: The song could have lasted 4 minutes and still done the same job. Lyrical focus is clearly key here too. The evocative bellow of "Is this Insanity?/Will They come to take me away?" doesn't exactly dress up its emotional turmoil, nor does the closing sorrow of "I no longer know myself". Such lyrics cut deep and run the course throughout the album, most songs demonstrating the same themes of loss, grief and dealing with the death of loved ones. I'll go as far as to say that this is Pallbearer's most raw and emotional album yet.
Instrumentally is where you may be turned away however. It's not so bad if you've listened to Pallbearer's previous releases and sort of expected the musicianship on display here, but it's definitely unfortunate if you came in expecting more of those golden, peak-hitting moments songs such as "The Ghost I used to Be" or "A Plea for Understanding" demonstrated in spades. And that's the point where I'll stop comparing, because the musicianship on Forgotten Days
is sometimes heading for a different direction altogether. Take, for example, "Riverbed" and "Stasis", both of which are considerably shorter than you'd expect a "standard" doom metal song to be in this day and age. With an immediate on winding riff work and almost acoustic strumming in places, both songs seem to aim for an accessible focus which is guaranteed mainstream attention at some point down the line. But it just doesn't seem to fit in with Pallbearer's influences. There's still moments in both of these songs where it seems the band want to embark on a playful voyage into more progressive work, but then "Riverbed" carries on strumming as if to embed itself into your memory, and the synth work of "Stasis" is rendered ineffective. Things get a bit more complacent with the uninspired vocal work towards the end of that track, the unnecessary drone of "sta-a-a-a-a-a-a-sis" clearly intended for the listener to absorb but with little forethought for how the song would end. Indeed, the songwriting in some parts of Forgotten Days
just seems incomplete.
Things get better and more cohesive in the second half however, and it's almost projected by the album's longest song by far, "Silver Wings". The song starts with this clearly hard rock-inspired sound, an opening riff which seems to be arguably the most simplistic riff Pallbearer have ever performed. Then things get slightly bizarre with a sudden depression into isolated bass work, and from that point onwards the slow, harmonic slumber evolves. Guitars grind, vocals sneer and soar with equal vigour, and tears are shed. Probably. I don't know about the latter exactly, but "Silver Wings" is definitely a highlight of the album, and it doesn't even do much to detract from those first few songs. Something about it just seems so complete and refined, and the magnetic instrumentation, whilst not anything out of the ordinary, flows so smoothly that the vocal work seems more absorbed into the instrumentation with every growing minute. It's ultimately a "collective" song, one which renders every component of the sound and shows them connecting rather than being placed and left to do the work. Funnily enough, the next song is the album's shortest. "The Quicksand of Existing" isn't as snappy as a sub-4 minute length would have you believe, and for a moment it seems as if the musical direction is to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor. Yet after half a minute, the heaviness picks up and Pallbearer embark on a pacier stomp through more doom-laden territory, complemented by a satisfying lyrical bellow of "Let your struggle go". Alas, if you wanted an impression of Pallbearer at their collective best on Forgotten Days
, you'd do best to start with these two songs.
may not give you the impression of a band at their creative peak, and comparing this album to the band's past also won't do you any favours. Yet the same emotional impact remains, the vocals are still harrowing in all the right ways, and somehow the musical direction still makes Pallbearer seem to stand in a field of their own. No Pallbearer album is for everyone, and the same can be said for the rest of their discography, but it does still deserve a solitary listen.