Pallbearer – Forgotten Days Review

Spear-heading the surge of American doom metal in the 2010s, Arkansas’s Pallbearer were the saddest and slowest of the cohort which also includes the likes of Khemmis and Spirit Adrift. With a simmering melancholy and towering doom-laden riffs, they were simultaneously the most traditional but most fresh of these acts. 2017’s Heartless saw them leaning into progressive territory (and copping them the ‘Progbearer’ nickname1) as it strove for expansive soundscapes and used dynamic song-writing. 2020 has been an especially sad year which would seemingly provide plenty of days to be forgotten; how fares Forgotten Days in this context?

In a stunning and hitherto unseen display of musical self-awareness, I found the one sheet to be at least partly accurate. It notes that Forgotten “eschews the compositional maximalism that hoisted predecessor Heartless aloft for the heaviest groove and the most visceral hooks to come out of the Arkansans to date.” While you may question whether the hooks are the most visceral in Pallbearer’s discography, there’s no doubt that Forgotten is a step away from Heartless as it is more immediate and groovier, returning to Sabbath-y territory which is closer to their earlier work. Beyond the whining guitar feedback representing the opening minute, the self-titled first track begins affairs with a lead which effortlessly gets your neck moving. The groovy swing is the basis of a solid, well-constructed doom metal song with a melodic chorus, emotive solo and heavy apex. It’s altogether more straight-forward than anything from the last 2 records but a worthy opener. Forgotten is undoubtedly the same band but leans further into the rollicking end of the doom spectrum than previously.

The greatest strength here is the conjuring of particular moods across the album. “Forgotten Days,” “Stasis” and “The Quicksand of Existing” are particularly stomping, lending surroundings with a sense of energy. But “Silver Wings” and “Caledonia” feels bigger and more cataclysmic; the layered, rumbling guitars have less obvious rhythms and melodies, while the crashing drums are ominous. Slower, funereal passages are subtly adorned with strings for grandiosity and the vocals are somber and powerful. Hooky though it is in places, the record also generates a ‘big’ sound when it wants to. Nonetheless, the characteristic aching, delicate song-writing shines through in places. Guitar solos are generally strong, being noodly but emotive and so reside on the right side of the masturbatory line. “Riverbed” has the distinctive mopey, melodic guitars of classic Pallbearer and the sparing use of strings accentuates emotional moments.

While Forgotten runs for 54 minutes which is comparable to their other albums, and despite the relative brevity of its tracks, it drags towards the end. “Silver Wings” is big in sound and length, and reaching its conclusion is long-winded and arduous; this conclusion is decent but the song-writing lacks direction in reaching that point which could have been reached in half the time. This falls around the album’s middle. Progressing on, “Vengeance & Ruination” has a consistent tempo and repeats until over 4 minutes in when it shifts gear. Its leads are blander and the song doesn’t really go anywhere. Across side B, tracks begin to bleed into each other and while Forgotten has its strengths, it lacks true standout moments. This is especially true as it reaches its second half. “Stasis” is a good example and demonstrates how things should be done elsewhere. Its tidy 4-minute length contains a strong lead, a decent chorus and hits a grand climax following a rumbling instrumental passage which offers a pause to accentuate the ensuing heaviness. It has a better sense of scale than other, longer songs, despite its brevity.

I was torn rating Forgotten; I was rather bored on first listen but it does improve on a few spins. But beyond these, I found myself reluctant to pick it up again. The killer is the lack of standout moments. Heartless was incredibly patchy but contained moments of true excellence, while this is far more consistent but consistently more average. “Caledonia” is the best of the bunch with its memorable chorus and climactic finale but I can’t see myself returning to the remainder in the future. I’m far from giving up on Pallbearer but Forgotten risks being a prophetic title.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 224 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Websites: |
Releases worldwide: October 23rd, 2020

Written By: Cherd of Doom

In the constellation that represents my journey through the metalverse, a handful of bright stars correspond to bands that came along at just the right time, exposing me to sounds that would culminate in my current obsession, and which connect me to you, the fine folks of the online metal community. The first bright star is Metallica, past their musical prime by the release of the Black Album, but still dark and dangerous to a high schooler in conservative Christian rural Nebraska before internet access. Close by is a dimmer star: their idiot man-child cousin Pantera, my first metal concert. Some light years away there’s Zao and the nascent 90s metalcore scene, another bright star in Opeth‘s Blackwater Park, and finally, at the nearest extremity, Pallbearer. Their first two albums, Sorrow and Extinction and Foundations of Burden, were the pole stars that guided me back to metal after several years of musical wandering. My love for them is shared by my wife, who even has singer Brett Campbell’s cell number saved in her phone,2 so covering a Pallbearer album has been something of a personal goal since I started writing here.

Before we get to how that worked out for me, let’s establish what we’re dealing with in the Arkansas quartet’s fourth full-length, Forgotten Days. Their previous album, 2017’s Heartless, was one I liked, but didn’t love. All the Pallbearer-isms that I enjoyed were present, but there was a marked shift toward prog that had me worried that their next effort could be a dull wank-fest. Of that, I was mistaken. When lead single “Forgotten Days” dropped a couple months ago, it was some of the purest Sabbathian worship the band has ever released. Brett Campbell has always had an Ozzy-like quality to his voice, and he seems to embrace those mannerisms throughout Forgotten Days, while the structures behind him are stripped back to simpler and shorter verse-chorus, almost radio-friendly songs. In a way, this is a continuation of final Heartless track “A Plea For Understanding,” which featured a big chorus and made me wonder at the time if Pallbearer secretly wanted to play stadium shows instead of metal clubs.

My fear of bland prog may have been unfounded, but for much of Forgotten Days, the same affect is achieved through hard-rock radio doom. I’ve never been as un-interested in a Pallbearer song as I am in “Riverbed,” “Stasis” or “The Quicksand of Existing.” Where once there was incisive, emotional guitar leads, these songs feature almost jam-band grooving and solos that retain the slight flavor of former greatness, but lacks the meat. The days of long, touching solos like could be found in “Watcher In the Dark” seem long over. There are minor psych elements added with keyboards here and there, and while the texture is welcome, when Campbell laconically repeats “Staaaaa – sis, staaaaa – sis” over them, it’s bad almost to the point of parody.

This new stab at stripped back accessibility isn’t always dull. “Rite of Passage” is a fine proof of concept, with spry but downcast instrumentation and a chorus that does with lyrics and voice what used to be reserved for the band’s guitar harmonies. Final song “Caledonia” likewise manages to walk the line between early Pallbearer grandeur and the new radio-friendly approach, though the chorus somehow makes me think of this as the band’s own “Hotel California.” Make of that what you will. It should come as no surprise that what I find to be the true highlight of the album is the one song that could fit comfortably on Foundations of Burden. “Silver Wings” returns for 12 glorious minutes to the stately solemnity of the band’s early work. After something of a false intro, the real meat starts at 1:40, and goddamnit it’s great to hear these boys so slow and sad. They may find new fans with their current approach, but my heart will stay right here, thank you. It’s likely the band understands this, which makes “Silver Wings” feel like a concession.

This is not the Pallbearer album I thought I’d be reviewing. You don’t watch a baseball game to see the all-star slugger collect bunt singles, or an (American) football game where every score is a field goal. Likewise, it’s not fun to see diminishing returns from a band you love. Forgotten Days isn’t a bad album, but as I hand it a score usually reserved for lesser bands putting out tepid but serviceable material, I can’t help be disappointed.

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Show 2 footnotes

  1. That only I use and didn’t catch on.
  2. They’ve only ever exchanged a text message each. I’ll let you use your imagination.
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