With only two full-length albums to their name so far, Arkansas' Pallbearer are a relative newcomer to the doom world, but have already garnered substantial renown and admiration with their modern yet classical sound, combining soulful guitar work with pounding rhythms to create epic, haunting songs full of somber melodies. With both of Pallbearer's albums released so far getting such a warm reception, there were high expectations for this, their third opus, “Heartless”. Have they manage to avoid the dreaded “third album syndrome?
“I Saw the End” kicks things off reassuringly with its sweeping melodies and strong vocals, as we've come to expect from Pallbearer by now. “Thorns” takes a darker, heavier turn with the pounding thymes we've come to know and love from Pallbearer. This is arguably one of the stronger tracks on the album, despite being only five minutes long (a blink of the eye in doom metal terms), and the quality being very consistent throughout the album as a whole. Album closer “A Plea for Understanding” is the real standout track here with its epic twelve minute composition, showing the band at their mellowest and most raw and exposed, with its heartfelt vocals and soulful guitar work. This track is a journey through a range of feelings, evocative and emotive, life affirming and downright powerful stuff.
From the earliest moments of “Heartless”, it is clear that Pallbearer have not shaken things up too radically since 2014's “Foundations of Burden”. Despite being unequivocally a doom metal record, “Heartless” somehow manages to be both somber and uplifting, gloomy yet not completely devoid of hope - perhaps Pallbearer's good fortunes have been reflected in their songwriting on this third effort. There is still some real darkness and despair here, but Pallbearer are nowhere near as pessimistic in their tone as many in their field.
“Heartless” sounds like a band that has lost some of their anxiety about trying to find their place in the world in an already crowded doom metal scene, instead sounding more like one that has cemented their place among the their peers and can now show the newcomers how it's done. This is a consistently strong performance throughout, showing a band on fine form, riding high on their success but staying true to who they are. Existing Pallbearer fans will be happy to add this to their collection, and no doubt some new coverts will be made as well. If you like your doom to take you on an emotional journey but leave you feeling perhaps a little bit uplifted as the same time, this is one for you. Ironically for its title, this is a recording with real heart – and soul.