Do you remember Khemmis and their 2016 album Hunted? Or King Goat‘s Conduit of that same year? These are powerful pieces of doom, saturated with a flow of tears that these guys kicked out onto the market. Both records have that tendency to keep your attention, even if a certain annoying lengthiness and over-complicated structures are inherent to them. But still powerful stuff nonetheless, ain’t it? This movement towards new doom horizons seems to be the sign of the time with a number of talented newbies coming on board to take over the doom universe from the old guard. And many of them come from the good ‘ol US of A. So, there is at least something good rolling over the ocean from NYC these days.
But the genre is very busy; there’s more…
Another outfit worth your reckoning is the US band Pallbearer. They enjoyed a pretty steeply arched career since they started delivering records some short years ago. Another slightly more seasoned newcomer, if you will. Just remember their 2nd full length record Foundations of Burden that got some pretty spiffy international acclaim. Of course, cranking out that much quality material in such a short time raises expectations. Lots of expectations that their 2017 record Heartless generates and needs to fulfill. I already heard them mentioned as worthy followers to the late Black Sabbath. A pretty wild assumption in my book. Besides, people dearly like to use the latter’s name in vain.
So, why on earth do we start this review with Khemmis and King Goat?
Well, at an unconscious level these two records constantly mix with Pallbearer‘s newest brainchild. Annoyingly so. The tune of the bands is different, yet the underlying soundscape is strikingly similar. Vocals, distorted guitars, synthie specs and drum work kind of fit, even if Pallbearer is by far not as meaty or refined than the aforementioned bands. So, here we have a much lauded album, yet I am missing the distinct signs of something really stellar. And this provides comfort in predictability, which is great for some fans. Whereas others might look for some more oomph and distinction.
And Heartless painfully sprawls!
You know, we had long-winded, lumbering albums on RMR’s review roaster in the past. Like Morass of Molasses and their style of sticky, doomish and very sludgy stoner groove. Or Moonsorrow‘s foray into the cold realms of Black Metal in Jumalten Aika. Or again and to stay with the genre, the aforementioned King Goat in all its complicated glory. Yet those records really shine with good flow, an innovative and consistent approach, plus a very powerful delivery.
This newest Pallbearer concoction – by contrast – has this tendency to endlessly gyrate around their doom metal soundscape. Accuse me of a diminished attention span if you will, but just roughly stringing blocks together risks to end in a lack of structure, which again tends to descend into mayhem. A confusing morass of elements that often fails to make sense in its own hell of inherent lengthiness.
This connects with the mixing and mastering on some tracks. For example the awkward, rough change to a totally disconnected interlude in Thorns at 3:32 or so is a good example of how you should not do things. Or take Dancing in Madness, where at around 2:31 you will find another sound commencing, completely unhinged from the previous block. With many minutes still to go on the track – kind of in lieu of splitting this monster into two distinct tracks.
Add to that the somewhat monotonous, ever similar vocals that sound like they just escaped the echo chamber. Thus, the record very quickly fades into the background and risks to fail delivering this constant kick that is the epitome of a stellar record.
Yet, Heartless redeems itself in a way!
It is all there, the savvy musicianship, the stellar, yet dreamy solos and dual guitar packs galore. In fact, tracks like Cruel Road and the title song Heartless towards the end of the album do a lot to improve the overall quality of the album. This meatier, scratchier, more daring approach to Pallbearer‘s style is what we should have had more of. These are the parts where we see stellar, crunchy metal with this inkling of prog arriving in force onto the scene. Mixed with some elements that Pink Floyd might have done. So, hells bells, what took them so long to basically wait for the last three tracks to really let loose and show their goodies to the world.
Credit needs to be given, where credit is due: These guys are good. Outstanding musicianship, expert riffing and soloing, rock solid drum work – all there. Add their innovative way to employ two guitars, kind of veering away from the standard lead and rhythm guitar just add spice to the whole doom menu. All this, however, gets cruelly crushed by a listless meandering about the record’s soundscape with parts sometimes strung together like Frankenstein on a bad day. Add to that a certain lack of innovative spirit and all of a sudden expectations are dampened some. So, Heartless is one of these hate/love affairs. I can see a lot of good, but equally some bad and ugly. And I can only comment on what I really see. It is the only thing I have to give.