Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore, 2014)
When I saw Pallbearer live after releasing their debut album Sorrow and Extinction (2012), it was clear that they take their doom seriously. With such somber subject matter, some might wonder how else one would expect them to be. But there are plenty of doom bands that emphasize other aspects, such as campy love of horror kitsch loaded with obscure, nerdy humor. Doom might not be the first metal genre to bring to mind “party music,” but it exists! Pallbearer aren’t out to ruin your party, but they’ll be there for you after, at 3 a.m. when your girlfriend has dumped you. Not that they’re exactly about romantic breakups, but rather more colossal calamities like bloodlust, crippling regret and the end of time. They’ll make your problems seem not so big a deal.
Word of mouth spread fast on the first album, without the benefit of any manufactured hype. People love this stuff, for similar reasons they love other powerful music like Black Sabbath, Joy Division or The Cure. The music doesn’t overextend itself trying to do too many things, or out heavy anyone. It’s finely honed and focused to trigger a visceral emotional impact. Now for their second album, there is some hype, but it’s deserved. A big part of the band’s appeal is Brett Campbell’s vocals, which avoid typical doom cliches of overtly aping Ozzy (though his influence is there), or trying to too hard to compete with more modern growls of sludge and death metal, or the bafflingly fashionable being burned/skinned alive screeches of black metal. Campbell simply sings, in a way that’s understated but melodic and direct. Free of affectations and excess, Campbell helps nail down the essential, devastating core of their taut, matte black compositions.
Not to say the band is tight to the point of rigidity. There is also a fluid sense of swing to the music that comes with just a lot of hours of rehearsal and performances. I don’t mean to single out the singer, because the entire band works together as such a cohesive unit that they truly feel like a singular entity. They’re the motherfucking Pallbearer. But the function of this band is not carrying away remains in a box, but to transport you elsewhere, be it a spiritual reverie or just zoning out to the massive riffs. Oh yes, there are riffs. And layers of guitars, and time changes, and even proggy analog synthesizers. But they’re all so tightly woven into the songs that they are not ornamental or distracting, and you might not even notice everything on the first couple listens. And somehow even with four songs well over ten minutes long, it seems like a short album. It’s not, and to it’s credit, playing it two or three times in a row is not an uncommon practice. There are solid riffs and melodies that almost make it a new kind of pop music, yet it’s also ethereal enough to morph or wiggle out of your grasp when listening. For that reason I find it hard to nail down individual highlights. “Watcher in the Dark” might be their best song ever. But then “The Ghost I Used to Be” has a melodic theme that threatens to haunt my dreams, and “Vanished” is a stunning closer.
The band are most likely astute students of most of the greats in their genre, from Cathedral and Candlemass to Solitude Aeturnus and Warning. But they just might cross over to levels of popularity and acclaim their predecessors didn’t even think possible in this genre. If it does happen, it’s well deserved.
Cardinals Folly – Our Cult Continues! (Shadow Kingdom, 2014)
It’s a bit of a tough break for this Finnish band to share the same release date with Pallbearer. Also on their second album, they’re kind of the yang to Pallbearer’s yin. They are overblown, sloppy, melodramatic, and sometimes a bit (perhaps unintentionally) ridiculous. Mikko Kääriäinen’s baritone somewhat resembles Ian Curtis, but with bellows that transcend good taste and sense more like Andrew Eldritch of Sisters Of Mercy. While their lyrical subjects are suitably dark and rich with references to the writings of Lovecraft, Howard and Wheatley, they also sound gleeful. For these reasons and more, Cardinals Folly is damn great, and well worth hearing.
No newcomers to the scene, they started out as The Coven in 2004, released a couple EPs, became Cardinals Folly and released two more EPs in 2008-09, compiled as Strange Conflicts of the Past. By the time of their official debut, Such Power is Dangerous! (2011), they were hardly newbies. So while the production of all their albums seem slightly low rent with some extremely distorted guitars, it’s clearly all intentional, and sounds great, even if there are some similarities to the production style of some early black metal. Actually, some of the nasty, distorted guitar tones are one of the best features of black metal, and I’m just glad they didn’t choose to be influenced by the vocals. At just under an hour, it’s slightly long, with some of the lengthier songs losing their way a bit, lacking a bit in melodic variation. But overall the songs and sounds are more varied than your average doom release. They even achieve a kind of stately approximation of Warning/40 Watt Sun territory on the closer, “Fallout Ritualist,” quite impressively! Cardinals Folly is in little danger of growing beyond a cult doom band, but they couldn’t give a rat’s ass. They’re having too much fun.