Slow and steady still serves Arkansas doom collective well
Doom metal is aptly named. Rather than espousing speed, the subgenre goes the other way. The riffs are agonizingly slow, creating cavernous walls of sound that threaten to swallow the listener whole. The words can be similarly dark, reveling in loss and desperation, but also celebrating triumph and redemption. It's music for sensitive, cerebral metalheads, and no one does it better than Little Rock, Arkansas' Pallbearer.
Pallbearer quickly made a name for itself with its 2012 debut, Sorrow and Extinction. Forgoing the guttural, growling style most doom purveyors prefer in favor of Brett Campbell's resonant vibrato, the band introduced an unabashed pop sensibility to the fiercely smoke-and-dagger crowd. The music harkens to a time when power pioneers Bruce Dickinson and Ronnie James Dio prowled the stage with giant, heroic voices. Likewise, Campbell isn't afraid to use his pipes to push songs to emotional places or to raise a chorus to new, anthemic heights. Pallbearer is proof that sludgy riffs and catchy hooks can live side by side in harmony.
Joseph Rowland shares songwriting and vocal duties with Campbell, and while the band's new album, Heartless,is no less brutal than its last, the lyrics are more introspective and confessional. Gone are the mystical and mythical analogs, replaced with first-person reckonings exploring some pretty heavy themes.
“We're in a different phase of our lives,” Rowland said by phone en route to a tour stop in Houston. “I think there's a lot of desire [for us] to always express personal stuff on the record, but we maybe hadn't felt as comfortable in the past being open about it. … As we're getting older, it felt more natural to be a little more open.”
Looking for more stability following the chaotic sessions for Foundations of Burden, from 2014, which stretched on for months and were described by Rowland as akin to living within “a post-apocalyptic ‘Groundhog Day,'” Pallbearer armed itself with a different producer and chose a comfortable location close to home. The resulting sessions allowed the band to dial things in and emerge with its most technical record yet. Guitar solos were painstakingly recorded and brought front and center, often serving as both the opening salvo and bookend crescendo of the songs.
“Dancing in Madness,” for one, opens with a slow-burning, nearly three-minute solo, showcasing the shred but also grounding the song in emotive space. “For this record, we put a lot more emphasis on the guitar solos to allow Brett and [guitarist] Devin [Holt] to complement the songs in new ways that made sense structurally,” said Rowland, who joins his bandmates in concert at Ace of Cups on Tuesday, May 30. “It let things settle, and every note had purpose.”