What an auspicious start to a career: Arkansas’ Pallbearer have released three albums thus far, all of which have perched high atop many a year-end list. Since 2012 they have been the darlings of the burgeoning modern doom scene, and this week they return with their fourth release, Forgotten Days.
Whereas Heartless, the band’s 2017 release pushed the band’s doom sound into more progressive realms, Forgotten Days (the band’s first release for Nuclear Blast) sees the foursome peeling things back, stripping away some of the extravagance and aiming for a more straightforward (and heavier) doom metal approach.
After self-producing, the band brought Randall Dunn (Earth, Sunn O)))) on board to assist with this album. The result is a gritty, heavy, off-the-floor sound and feel. For the most part, the eight songs presented are leaner and shorter than any of Pallbearer’s previous three albums. This is the band’s shortest album since their debut, featuring the most concise songwriting – only one song crosses the eight minute threshold.
Ironically, the gem of the album is the one long song, the twelve minute “Silver Wings.” It features a grandiose introduction more in line with the last couple of albums, and keyboard moments that remind one, in feel and atmosphere more so than in the actual synth patch, of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.” It is eerie, effective, and brilliant.
Other highlights are scattered throughout the songs, rather than complete songs themselves. “The Quicksand of Existing” rumbles and churns like a maelstrom, a great rolling vanguard of doom. A super wah pedal-infused guitar solo adds more unexpected character. Brett Campbell’s nine-string guitar dives deep for some of the lowest-frequency riffs you’ll ever hear, but at four minutes it feels unfinished. “Vengeance & Ruination” opens with perhaps the most evil of riffs, simple and hypnotic. Unfortunately the verses don’t hold up to the magnificence of the intro.
Therein lies the main issue with Forgotten Days: the short songs have more of an unfinished rather than concise feel to them. It feels as though Pallbearer deliberately went for a more early doom sound versus modern, and attempted to achieve this in part with shorter arrangements, but this doesn’t always translate to gripping material. “Riverbed” leans towards being too gritty and noisy, while “Rite of Passage” offers brief moments of experimental genius that are buried beneath waves of more generic doom.
That being said, the band does shine in a couple of areas, including monstrous guitar tone, but more obviously in the continually improving vocals of Campbell. Each outing shows the man forging ahead technically, adding emotion and depth to his style in a manner that truly pulls the listener into the songs.
Don’t get me wrong: Forgotten Days is a solid doom effort by any standard, but when your previous three releases are among the most immaculate the genre has to offer, even a pretty good album will be a step down. Forgotten Days is still a rewarding and enjoyable listen; it just veers in an unexpected and uneven evolutionary direction.
(released October 23, 2020 on Nuclear Blast)
Heavy Music Headquarters Rating:
Watch Pallbearer – “Forgotten Days” Video