If you’re of the mindset that metal is metal, and the mainstream is the mainstream, and never the twain should meet, then it’s understandable that the mainstream media heaping praise on underground metal bands makes you a little cranky. I mean, if you think metal should remain an exclusive club, then that’s bound to tweak your temper, but let’s not forget that all that metal and mainstream intermingling is frequently a two-way street.
Plenty of metal bands and labels happily work with mainstream media outlets to tout their wares, and if that irks you, then you’re perfectly entitled to grouch about it. However, the familiar argument that underground metal bands finding themselves under the mainstream spotlight have made some concession to make that happen doesn’t really hold water.
Obviously, some bands have adapted their sound or image in the hopes of appealing to a more mainstream audience – and we’ve all seen plenty of examples of that. However, in the case of bands like Little Rock, Arkansas’ Pallbearer, and Eugene, Oregon’s Yob, you have two bands that have found fans from well outside metal’s usual circle without making any concessions to seek out that increased recognition.
The reason Pallbearer and Yob have drawn that attention doesn’t have anything to do with astute marketing, or any musical compromises, and their popularity simply comes down to the fact that both bands make soul-stirring music. The kind of music that can hold us up, and bolster our emotional well-being, when we might otherwise be exhausted by life’s never-ending trials.
Like many a doom band, Pallbearer and Yob tell tales of emotional turmoil, grief, despair, tragedy, and our everyday struggles. Yob takes a more mystical view on such issues than Pallbearer, but both provide equal amounts of solace. All their monolithic riffs, melancholic melodies, soaring vocals passages, and all those dark or often confessional lyrics, tap into a common desire to wallow in tales of woe, and reflect on our own mortality.
There’s obviously a huge crossover of music fans wanting to share in those experiences, and as down-tempo and down-beat as Pallbearer or Yob often are, they still illuminate pathways for us to deal with the mental fatigue and emotional weariness of our lives.
For some, that means listening to Pallbearer or Yob might well bring a sense of enormous release from their troubles. For others, it might only mean temporary relief. Either way, Pallbearer and Yob speak of a world where people are often left feeling lonely, isolated, and afraid. That’s a world many of us are very familiar with, and those are all too common emotional states that we dwell in. But Pallbearer and Yob are here to help us endure those times, by creating the kind of affecting music that can mean all the difference between giving up or hanging on.
Now, I fully appreciate that a lecture on the psychological benefits of listening to Pallbearer or Yob probably isn’t the introduction you were expecting (or likely wanting) for a feature on their new albums. That’s fair enough. There are probably plenty of fans of both bands that aren’t looking for any deeper meaning in their music, or consciously seeking any catharsis. They’re just cranking album’s from Pallbearer or Yob because they enjoy being pummeled by superlative doom metal. I’m all in favor of blasting both bands for the brain-battering enjoyment found in their towering tunes too, and in Pallbearer’s case, the band’s new album, Foundations of Burden, is immensely satisfying in that regard.
Pallbearer: Foundations of Burden
For those not au fait with Pallbearer’s rise to fame, the band released an excellent three-song demo in 2010, and that resulted in sky-high expectations for the band’s debut full-length. Pallbearer more than delivered on that with 2012’s Sorrow and Extinction, which was a classic debut if ever there was one. The album’s 50 majestic minutes featured a low-slung, transcendental stomp, mixing with progressive and psychedelic rock, and Sorrow and Extinction was thoroughly deserving of all its abundant praise.
Of course, that left one slight issue; how do you follow that up?
Apparently, very easily. Because Foundations of Burden is a complete and utter triumph. The first thing you’ll notice about the album is that Billy Anderson’s (Sleep, High on Fire, Om, etc) production means Foundations of Burden is warmer, thicker, and burlier than Sorrow and Extinction. Anderson’s also cleaned up Pallbearer’s sound as well, but don’t panic, he does so without sacrificing an ounce of the band’s vintage tone. It’s simply that Foundations of Burden sounds bigger from the get-go, and where previously a little muddy murk had hung around on Pallbearer’s songs – which was no bad thing – Anderson’s scraped some (but not all) of that off for a crisper, more defined sound.
That increased clarity, means all the complex arrangements and subtle movements truly shine on Foundations of Burden, with nothing hidden in the mix. However, there’s also an extra layer of richness added to the band’s sound because Foundations of Burden finds bassist Joseph D. Rowland, and guitarist Devin Holt, adding backing harmonies to vocalist and guitarist Brett Campbell’s powerful voice. Campbell, already recognised as a superb vocalist, sounds more confident than ever on Foundations of Burden, but then, the entire band sounds far more self-assured on the album – for good reason.
With new drummer Mark Lierly in tow, Pallbearer have crafted an album that sounds massive, yet it always retains a core of intimacy. Foundations of Burden falls into the rarified camp where releases from bands like SubRosa, and UK doom titan 40 Watt Sun, use tone and texture to mix sorrow and splendour, creating songs that’ll put a lump in the throat – or, if they catch on the right day, put a tear in the eye.
That’s all there on Foundations of Burden’s heart-rending opener “Worlds Apart”, and follow-up “Foundations”. Both tracks are built from imposing granite, but there’s that ever-present feel of immense brawn and fragility.Of course, Pallbearer being Pallbearer, you’ll find that same sense of duality on all of Foundations of Burden’s tracks, and no matter their lengthy running times, none of the album’s songs ever feel self-indulgent.
Pallbearer don’t just use the heftier presence of layers of guitar on Foundations of Burden to send mountainous riffs crashing from one crushing crescendo to the next. The also use that extra magnitude to bring more dynamic sway to the album. That means, when the ascending swells on “Watcher in the Dark” and “The Ghost I used to be” hit, they hit damn hard. When the beautiful folk balladry of “Ashes” arrives, that feels more dramatic too. And when those surging melodies come rushing forward on final track “Vanished”, you can feel that increased power of Foundations of Burden, right in your chest.
Obviously, being a doom metal album, Foundations of Burden isn’t jam-packed with the happiest of tidings. But the album does feel more more heartening than Sorrow and Extinction. Much of that comes down to that sharper and brighter sound, but there’s still plenty of shadow and downheartedness to get lost in here. To get back to my original point in the introduction, it’s from that darkness that we draw strength, and because Foundations of Burden sounds that much bigger than Sorrow and Extinction, the emotional payoff is duly increased.
The album’s mournful and yearning passages feel that much more affecting, and their magnificently balanced by uplifting passages that feel more monumental and profound as well. In essence, there’s simply more reward, perhaps even deliverance, to be found on Foundations of Burden. But, of course, if you’re not looking for any of that, then you can just admire all those mesmerising melodies, and chest-crushing riffs.
Anyone who loves Foundations of Burden is going to be able to cherry pick plenty of moments on the album where they feel Pallbearer strike the mark dead on. However, for me, it’s when those storming riffs come thundering into view after moments of serenity on the album – and those times where solos suddenly light up the sky. I’d be hard pressed to pick one passage or song as standing out in particular because, as a whole, Foundations of Burden is a breathtaking performance overall.
Sorrow and Extinction was a landmark release, and Foundations of Burden is unquestionably another. You’ve probably read other reviews saying much the same, and while its understandable to dubious about all that praise that Pallbearer is enjoying, the fact is, all that acclaim is totally justified. There are few bands that have released two truly entrancing releases in a row, and the obvious marker for the kind of artistic growth that Pallbearer have shown, and the wider appreciation that the band is experiencing, is right there in the early history of one of their greatest inspirations: Black Sabbath.
Similarly, all pieces are in place for Pallbearer to become a classic and hugely influential doom metal band. Hell, let’s be honest, with an album like Foundations of Burden, they already are.
Yob – Clearing The Path To Ascend
Two albums in, and Pallbearer have made huge advances in getting their name known, but Oregon-based trio Yob have been respected in the metal community for many years. The band was founded by vocalist/guitarist Mike Scheidt, in 1996, and the band released a series of acclaimed albums before disbanding for a couple of years in 2006. Yob’s return from the wilderness in 2009, with the The Great Cessation album, found the band signed to Profound Lore. The Great Cessation was a magnificent release unto itself, but cache attached to Profound Lore, with regular coverage of label’s artists on larger, often mainstream websites, certainly meant Yob were exposed to a wider audience.
That audience gets to enjoy an arm of doom that’s resounding heavy and deeply emotive, and Yob’s releases are also imbued with Scheidt’s interests in Eastern spiritual practices. There’s no question that Yob are justly revered for bringing a unique sound and vision to doom, but the band’s last album, 2011’s Atma, was the first to run into any serious grumblings from fans. Atma’s production meant that some fans felt that Yob’s hammering riffs didn’t drop from quite the same heights as before. Although, the album still featured plenty of pummel, and Yob’s intention to climb cathartic summits was always apparent.
Yob’s latest album, Clearing The Path To Ascend, will undoubtedly appease those who felt Atma had some shortcomings. With Yob now signed to the mighty Neurot Records, a more than fitting home for the band, Yob’s first release for the label finds the band ascending the highest pinnacles of doom once again. As is the way with Yob, the band brings abundant spiritual and sonic weight, but while elements of sludge, drone, and post-and-progressive rock have threaded their way through Yob’s work in the past, on Clearing The Path To Ascend, they’re far more prominent.
Scheidt’s growls, howls, and other-worldly intonations add to the album’s mix of contemplative and all-conquering doom – and what’s always defined Yob’s brilliance is band’s ability to match bombastic musical and emotional heaviness. Clearing The Path To Ascend exhibits both those traits fantastically. The 17-minute album opener, “In our Blood”, chugs and churns, drops out for an ambient section, and comes storming back to finish; bringing enormous pressure to bear on the mind and body. The same can be said for follow-up track “Nothing to Win”, which takes a different route, with a faster and grittier pace, and flashes of labelmates like Ufomammut or Neurosis appear in the song’s melding of a sludgier, psychedelic undercurrent with abundant brute force.
Clearing The Path To Ascend’s final two tracks, “Unmask The Spectre”, and 19-minute album closer, “Marrow”, feature stunning use of dramatic dynamics. They’re both epic songs, of course, that’s always been Yob’s forte, but there’s a lot more post-and-progressive rock bleeding through the song’s lurches, cascades, and huge, ascending surges. “Marrow” is the standout song on the album, one of Yob’s best tunes yet, and it’s a superb example of how the band are able to head off into the cosmos, then dive deep into the underworld, and sweep you up in the emotionality of that journey.
Sorrow obviously plays its role on “Marrow”, as is does throughout the album, and Scheidt’s stirring vocals ensure that’s all felt. But, then there’s the music. Clearing the Path to Ascend is full of fluid flickers, subtle shifts, and gigantic, earth-quaking and psych-shaking movements. All combining to bring Yob’s signature sense of operating at a whole other hypnotic and mystical frequency.
Clearing the Path to Ascend is a phenomenal album, but it’s also an important one for Yob and their fans. For anyone who’d felt that the band had stumbled on Atma, Clearing the Path to Ascend proves that Yob hasn’t lost any of their power or creative drive. The band has taken a few risks on the album by injecting post-and-progressive rock passages more prominently, and that shows an admirable sense of not simply catering to what fans desire.
Certainly, Yob have crafted an album that’s extraordinarily heavy, and Clearing the Path to Ascend features hugely impressive monuments of sound. With that comes all the band’s transcendent power, and Yob certanly dive deep into the consciousness, stimulating all those neurons and impulses that kick down the doors of perception. Of course, just like Pallbearer, if the idea of delving into the depths of the conscious and unconscious doesn’t appeal, or that all sounds a little too metaphysical, then just sit back and admire Yob tearing a hole in the fabric of reality by using every modicum of their instrumental prowess.
Clearing the Path to Ascend is sure to be hailed as one of Yob’s finest albums yet – and deservedly so. For a band that has already given us a lot of fantastic music in the past, Clearing the Path to Ascend shows just as much promise for the future. It’s another masterwork from Yob, but not simply because the copious amounts of brute energy help us find comfort through chaos. Clearing the Path to Ascend is magnificently loud and rapturously strident, but, at its heart, it quietly provides a sense of support for our innermost being; succor for our very souls.