Ah, the dreaded Second Album. It’s the infamous make-or-break moment that either legitimizes a young act as The Real Deal, or the one record that calls a band on its bullshit. Case in point: 2012’s Sorrow and Extinction put Little Rock, Arkansas’s Pallbearer into the ears and hearts of many doom aficionados, rightfully earning its place on many end-of-year playlists. A minor line-up shuffle and a few high-profile tours later, they’ve returned with the much-anticipated Foundations of Burden. Have they hit doom metal perfection this time around?
No, but they’re so damn close. Foundations of Burden is not Sorrow and Extinction Part II. Rather, it’s the sound of a band acknowledging the power and emotion of the debut, and razing it to ashes before taking off to the stratosphere. Everything is improved upon from their already impressive debut. Mere seconds into “Worlds Apart” shows stronger riffs and melodies from guitarists Devin Holt and Brett Campbell, and Joseph D. Rowland’s crushing basslines are as tar-thick as ever, but there’s a greater ebb and flow to the songwriting. And speaking of Campbell, his voice, which was a bit shaky and vulnerable before, is now brimming with confidence. His delivery is nothing short of breathtaking throughout the entirety of Foundations, whether it’s in the verses or the many Beach Boys-esque multi-part vocal harmonies.
It’s tough to really verbalize any standout songs, as almost all of them accentuate what amazing doom metal will make the listener feel: the sense of abject despair sprinkled with a glimmer of hope. “The Ghost I Used to Be” is the power of From These Wounds-era Funeral capped off with a soaring finale. “Watcher in the Dark” lurches and crushes, thanks in no small part to new drummer Mark Lierly’s careful choice of fills, before allowing some much-needed breathing room about six minutes in with a melody recalling earlier Paradise Lost and Anathema. However, it’s the closing number, “Vanished,” that utterly brings out emotions like few others can. After a moving vocal harmony at the 7:26 mark, music thundering in the background, it dissipates slowly. The best way to describe the feeling as the song winds down is that of a tender embrace by a long-lost friend at a rainy funeral for a loved one who’s slowly being lowered to their final resting place, with the sun trying to break through the fog and despair. “Beautiful,” “moving” and “heartfelt” aren’t quite strong enough adjectives to describe that feeling.
The flaws are few, but sadly exist. “Ashes,” while a beautiful song full of Rhodes keyboards and violins, doesn’t quite reach the same power as the rest of the album. Billy Anderson’s production and mastering is more powerful and brighter than on Sorrow and Extinction, but sadly not as dynamic. Even then, it’s a good sounding record. I mean, that bass tone, those riffs, and all those beautiful vocal harmonies… damn.
Foundations of Burden finds Pallbearer oozing confidence and bleeding sincerity. A good friend of mine described them as “Funeral meets Fleet Foxes,” and while it’s a good summation of their sound, it doesn’t nearly do them justice. This is a band that deserves its place in the doom pantheon along with the greats of yore, and is an incredible album to purge your heart to. Avoid this masterpiece at your own peril.