Album Review – Heartless by Pallbearer (Profound Lore Records/Nuclear Blast Records)

Pallbearer have released their new album, Heartless. Heartless is Pallbearer’s third studio album and was released on the 24th of March via Profound Lore Records/Nuclear Blast Records.

Pallbearer are from Arkansas and are an increasingly popular, and one of the more accessible doom metal/hard rock/prog bands around. Since their debut 2012 release, Sorrow and Extinction, they have seemed destined for big things with online magazine Pitchfork awarding them the status of Best New Music. Their second album, Foundations of Burden, also did well, scoring very highly with reviewers across the board. It even debuted in the top ten on the US Billboard Hard Rock Albums.

Pallbearer consists of Brett Campbell on vocals and guitar with Devin Holt as the lead guitarist. Joseph D. Rowland looks after the bass, and both Devin and Joseph add backing vocals. All three of these members are original founding members. Mark Lierly looks after the drums having  joined in 2012, becoming the band’s 4th drummer so far.

Heartless

We here at GBHBL took a look at one of their singles released from this album, I Saw the End. While there were moments of good riffing and some exceptional guitar leads and solos, I wasn’t in love with the vocal style. Brett can sing, don’t get me wrong, but they sound a bit like Ghost. Yep, I am one of those oddities that don’t like Ghost. There were also a few parts on that track that were just, well, a bit boring. There were also plenty of bits I liked about it though so I am intrigued to see how Heartless plays out.

What Pallbearer have done brilliantly so far in their career is blend multiple styles into an accessible, and popular, sound of their own. There are loads of prog influences, pop styled sections, over produced rock and heavy doom all blended into a unique style. That is commendable. The problem that can often be found with doom, and prog, though is long songs that never really go anywhere. They just meander on and on for the sake of it. That is an issue that occasionally raises it’s head on Heartless but only occasionally.

Heartless is a 7 track album that comes in at around an hour long. Expect some long songs then. It all starts off with the single, I Saw the End so isn’t a bad start. It has a heavy sound and some excellent, warm guitar solos despite my personal feelings about the vocal style. That is followed by Thorns which is the shortest song on the album, at just under 5 and a half minutes long. It is also one of the more enjoyable tracks on the whole album.

Heartless

It has a nice chuggy riff and steady drum rhythm at the beginning which sides on the doom metal side of things. A nice guitar line comes in over the top before the vocals join in. The vocals sound okay to me here too, I think, because the music seems to be sitting above them during the verses anyway. Holt’s guitar makes the song again though as it just seems to be unleashed away from the standard song structure. It floats around, playing little solos and lines brilliantly. A very slow, reflective section is saved from being too dull by a gorgeous guitar melody that builds into a pretty heavy riffing section. Good song, this one, and heavier than I would have expected.

Another very good song is Cruel Road which is quite a theatrical sounding, big 80’s kind of track with a sombre and steadily paced intro that is joined by soaring guitars. I’m all for soaring guitars so this is all good with me. The lead guitar fades out and we are left with a hard and heavy, chugging riff over slowly thumped drums. The verses actually speed up a fair bit so we have a nice head banging rhythm going. The vocals don’t always sit right with the music – sometime sounding out of time.

The prechorus kicks in though and the vocals turn to a clean shout from the backing vocalists which I really like. It sounds a little punky actually. A bit of an instrumental section after the chorus sounds a little too disjointed and over distorted before finally settling into a catchy rhythm. There is a big climax to this song too with shouted vocals and a pretty heavy sound from the guitars and drums that will satisfy almost all heavy metal fans.

Title track Heartless was a bit more of a chore to get through though. It has moments, like a bit of free drumming from Lierly about half way through that sounds great and leads straight into a low toned, fuzzy guitar solo. This builds into a heavy riff and then eventually that is joined by vocals. The layering approach sounds good and works well. The first half of the song is just a little too confused for me.

Heartless

The intro is fine, again the guitars stand out but after that it doesn’t really go anywhere. It never quite becomes a doom song, never quite becomes a prog song and just sort of sits in the middle, leaving me a bit puzzled. I do like the outro guitars again though. I guess the song becomes a 3 slice sandwich where I like the bread but not the filling.

Lie of Survival starts with the gloomiest of intros using a big sounding bass over very high and clean guitar notes. It is played so slowly though and remains so even when the electric guitar joins in. Again, the lead guitar here is warm, soft and nice to listen to. It conveys sadness well. The vocals are best described as soaring here with some pretty high ranges hit. They sound good despite not really being my thing. It’s a good but standard gloomy, doom track.

The other two tracks on the album are the longest on the album. Dancing in Madness is just under 12 minutes long while A Plea for Understanding is just under 13 minutes long. The former is a slow, clean starter with drumming that relies heavily on snare and cymbals. While the first 3 minutes play out, it is an easy to listen to instrumental section packed with warm guitars and gentle drums. The vocals in the verses aren’t for me though, they are drawn out and lack a little depth. The problem with songs of this length is that they seem to just meander without ever reaching a destination.

That is how both feel though Dancing with Madness has an excellent guitar solo that is worth waiting for. A Plea for Understanding has a heavier, doom feel to most of it. The intro is quite proggy and moves into a section that is painfully slow at times. The sort of pace that only a tortoise could actually head bang in time to. It moves into clean acoustic sections with layered instruments that work nicely. Sombre, deep vocals over almost silence make up the verses. Again, there is a decent guitar solo too, something I am finding on every track actually. At almost 13 minutes though, it is a bit of a chore to get through.

Heartless

Oddly, I find on the album as a whole that the better tracks are the shorter ones. They seem to have a greater impact than the long, experimental wandering epics. Songs like Thorns and Cruel Road convey the message much better than A Plea for Understanding where I find myself drifting off and losing interest.

As an album, Heartless is pretty solid and I can see why Pallbearer are destined for greatness. The well put together instrumental sections and guitar solos are wonderful to listen to. Despite my dislike of some of the vocal styling, I was surprised to find it didn’t bother me too much here. It was nice to hear a few different vocal tones and ranges used too.

The most pleasant surprise though is probably that it is maybe Pallbearers heaviest and fastest album to date. I wasn’t expecting that. A bit of trimming on those longer songs and it would have been exceptional. Instead, it is just very good.

Heartless is available now through all the usual streaming services. You can also purchase it from Amazon, iTunes or Profound Lore as well as all the usual music stores. Check the band out on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with information on them, and future releases as well.

Heartless
  • 7.5/10
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