My oh my, doom is getting more and more epic (read as long-winded) and it seems the genre is increasingly stricken with chronic Metallica-itis (inability to edit or cull songs). With bands such as Pilgrim and Swallow the Sun releasing albums loaded down with mega-long, droning numbers, attention spans everywhere are being tested and found wanting. Now we can add Arkansas’s Pallbearer to the list, with their huge debut Sorrow and Extinction. Like the others, it features song after song of weighty, long-playing, ponderous doom. It’s the type album that sends our attention challenged AMG scurrying back to his therapeutic moss gardens to contemplate his navel. And while slow, mournful doom can be a wonderful thing, even I concede it gets tough to take when songs approach the ten minute mark. Mercifully, Pallbearer largely avoids the doomdrums due to their style and stellar songwriting abilities. Fusing the traditional doom approach of While Heaven Wept with the post-rock fetishistic nothingness and shoe-gaziness of acts like Altar of Plagues, these southern gents walk the line between drone and overdone. There are also the requisite nods to greats like Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Warning as things drag and grind along, and its an enjoyable ride for those that can sit up and pay attention long enough (22.3% of the metal populace by my calculations).
Showing slight regard for people’s busy schedules, Pallbearer opens with their longest track, the twelve-minute-plus album standout, “Foreigner.” Starting with calming acoustics and a languid pace, the monumental doom riffs eventually crest the hill to bathe you in gloom and ennui. These are top-notch doom leads that make you stare at the ground involuntarily, in a doom-themed variant of Tebowing. The alternately trilling and crushing leads are accompanied by the soaring, clean vocals of Brett Campbell and the whole construct glows with emotive glumosity. While there are clear similarities to Warning‘s excellent Watching From a Distance, this has its own identity and the composition skills keep it from getting monotonous, despite the protracted length. The funeral procession riffing at 11:27 is pure gold. “Devoid of Emptiness” (that doesn’t make sense) is slightly more urgent and aggressive and benefits from haunting vocals and extra heavy, sludgy riffing. Tell me the riff at 3:45 doesn’t remind you of Bolt Thrower‘s “World Eater.” Elsewhere, “The Legend” has some classic Saint Vitus flavored riff phrasing and several riffs have beautifully tragic airs about them.
The most challenging track to focus on for most will likely be the closer “Given to the Grave.” The inclusion of long, near-ambient segments with very little going on makes it pretty easy to drift off into wonderland (or go moss peeping if that’s your thing). The section from 3:00 onward almost demands that you zone out and drool on yourself like you got a frontal lobotomy, but overall it’s still an interesting, emotional slice of doom.
As with all doom, Sorrow and Extinction depends on the riffs to drench the listener in oceans of despair and sadness. Devin Holt and Campbell do their job admirably and their riffs ooze angst and unhappiness. There are lots of quality doom leads scattered throughout, and some truly beautiful moments of depressive guitar-work (the riffing in the beginning of “The Legend” makes me picture a blood red sun rising over the ocean). Campbell’s vocals are above average and his delivery is similar to Rain Irving (While Heaven Wept), but rougher around the edges and less polished. He’s very skilled at sounding emotionally wounded and you can hear the pain in his voice. These guys have real talent and a feel for the genre and the result is an album rich in mood and atmosphere. ItÂ can wash over you and carry you off to another place if you let it (so stop looking at the shiny objects and pay fucking attention!)
Downsides? Well, yeah, the songs rumble on too long. Pretty much every track could have been pared down without losing power and scope. Back to back to back doom ditties averaging ten minutes will challenge even the most dedicated doom troopers. Also, a little more diversity in tempo or dynamics would have helped make things a scoche more accessible. Finally, some of the sedate pieces go on too long for my tastes and lose the story of the song (that sounded way more fruity than I intended).
Minor criticisms aside, this is a really well-developed slab-o-doom by a very promising young crew. Melodic, atmospheric, emotional and heavy as all fuck, Sorrow and Extinction has it going on… and on. If you want music to shoe gaze or moss collect to, this is the stuff Dr. Doom would prescribe for you. Take aurally and then operate really heavy machinery.