Forgotten Days, Pallbearer’s fourth album, is heavy in more than one sense. Placing the actual music to one side momentarily, the lyrics deal with some serious and difficult themes and concepts. Joseph D. Rowland (bass, harmony vocals), who wrote many of the words, talks about the songs often being a kind of dialogue with his late mother who passed away around the time of the recording of Pallbearer’s first album more than a decade ago. Lead vocalist (and guitarist) Brett Campbell’s lyrics also touch upon related themes: “My mom’s mom has been withering away with Alzheimer’s. My mom goes to see her, and seeing her deal with Alzheimer’s, watching her mother slip away piece by piece is hard.”
Musically, Forgotten Days is equally serious and impactful. It is full of heavy and sludge-laden classic doom riffs, but it avoids the pitfall of being generic or indistinct. The vocal melodies – often adorned with harmonies – have a depth and a classiness which elevates the songs far above those of so many doom bands for whom the vocals feel like an afterthought. Campbell’s mournful and soaring voice has a classic 70s rock quality, and it is wonderfully complemented by those of Rowland and Devin Holt (who also plays guitar).
Style-wise, Pallbearer draw from a richer palette than merely doom metal riffs. Many songs exhibit a progressive or psychedelic rock influence, with jazz-influenced chords, swirling effects, extended atmospheric instrumental sections, and synthesizer breakdowns all making appearances. The production, handled by Randall Dunn, works incredibly effectively to support this mesh of stylistic influences. The whole sound is doused in a classic warm analogue wash, like a heavily varnished painting. The crushing riffs sound appropriately earthy and organic, and this leaves space for the spacey and psychedelic sounds to be given a more crisp sonic treatment. According to Campbell, the band were aiming “to capture the immediacy and what the songs feel like when they’re performed live,” and objective is achieved admirably – there is a subtle rawness here and minimal overdubs, all of which aids the visceral impact of the music.
The album flows as a whole, with each further twist of the journey jigsawing in with what precedes and follows. Nevertheless, there are notable highlights. The title (and opening) track offers dizzying riffs and pained vocals. “Riverbed” alternates between lighter emotive sections and cathartically heavy refrains. The epic “Vengeance & Ruination” is notable for its unexpected chord changes and powerful vocal harmonies which glide over the top of crushing riffs. Eight-minute album closer “Caledonia” melds folk-influenced sections with monolithic riffs and prog guitar solos.
Also noteworthy is the album cover art for Forgotten Days – an oil painting by Michael Lierly, brother of Pallbearer’s drummer Mark Lierly. The picture is a beautiful and evocative portrait of what appears to be several generations of a family, with a mother holding a newborn baby and the ghostly figures of her own parents standing behind her with their arms on her shoulders. The piece, which is of a caliber rarely seen in album art, provides a well of evocative imagery which aptly augments the music and lyrical themes.
Forgotten Days does what Pallbearer fans will want it to do, and it will appeal to fans of doom, stoner, prog, classic metal, and hard rock. Pallbearer tread well-trodden paths, but they do so with absolute mastery and with enough idiosyncrasy that, despite its title, Forgotten Days won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Forgotten Days by Pallbearer is released on 23rd October 2020 on Nuclear Blast. Preorder your copy here: https://pallbearer.bandcamp.com/