Imagine the expectations that have trailed Pallbearer since 2012. That’s the year that the Arkansas doom metal quartet debuted with Sorrow & Extinction, an urgent espousal of most everything great about the low-lit, low-tempo subgenre. Riffs unwound like endless smoke rings. Drums seemed to shake the band’s very frame. Vocals delivered a sinister glimpse of forbidden light. The record became one of the year’s true crossover contenders, pushing the crew of Little Rock rookies from upstart obscurity toward big festival bills and year-end lists. But could they top it?
Pallbearer answers with unapologetic audacity and preternatural ease on Foundations of Burden. Just short of the hour mark, it’s longer than its predecessor — maybe a touch louder, too. What’s most important about Foundations of Burden, though, is Pallbearer’s expert deployment of dynamics and stylistic touchstones usually left outside of doom’s circle of darkness. During the “Ghost That I Used to Be,” for instance, they hit a stride that suggests they’re one risky DJ and track edit away from rock radio; “Foundations” climbs from an outgoing instrumental interlude into sudden post-rock heights, Brett Campbell’s arching voice tracing the kind of coda that couples fall in love to, even if he’s singing about the predestined disappearance of mortals.
Even though five of these six songs push or break the 10-minute mark. Every note feels cared for, every bit of repetition part of an important act of accretion. From “Ashes,” a twinkling tune that might have fit on 4AD two decades ago, to the romantic piano lines that guide the comedown of “Watcher in the Dark,” Pallbearer spend great effort ensuring their doom feels effortless. Despite their subtlety and delicacy, they’re not attenuated, either. This quartet can still feel like an army.
“Without dark/ the light burns out our eyes,” Campbell offers with a perfect touch of falsetto during the album’s first two minutes. On one of the year’s best and most magnetic albums, Pallbearer has found its own balance of shade and shine, no pressure detected.