I just realized I’ve loved Pallbearer for eight whole years, starting the moment I first heard their debut album, Sorrow and Extinction. Since at least their third full-length, 2017’s Heartless, the best ever doom-metal band in Little Rock, Arkansas, have openly indulged their love of prog and classic rock, and I’ve stayed cool with that. Over the years they’ve also tamed a bit of their blown-out, barely-in-tune graveyard murk and adopted a relatively lucid approach to their vocal production, and I didn’t get off the bus on account of that either. Those aren’t the important things here—and I’m pleased to report that Pallbearer’s new fourth record, Forgotten Days (their first for Nuclear Blast), leaves all the important things intact. The album isn’t a grand slam—the gauzy synth on “Silver Wings” feels gratuitous, and “Riverbed” pairs uncharacteristically tentative vocals with an arrangement that leaves them almost completely exposed—but it’s got the dilated, beautifully mournful melodies, the thick ’n’ chocolatey guitar tones, and the stately, serpentine riffs that make Pallbearer such a reliably satisfying listen. Do you like your guitar solos thoughtful, patient, and unshowy, working almost like a song within a song? How about long, winding, the-journey-is-the-destination compositions that wouldn’t recognize a three-minute radio edit if it bit them on the ass? These guys have you covered.
To my ears Pallbearer’s music has always evoked desolate, exalted solitude and grief, and historically I’ve cared more about how it makes me feel than about how the band might want it to make me feel (largely because I rarely pay attention to lyrics in metal). But I’m making an exception for Forgotten Days, because even though it was written last year, it has a lot to say to people living through this one. Guitarist and front man Brett Campbell and bassist Joseph Rowland have both written songs about losing their mothers—Campbell’s to Alzheimer’s (“Forgotten Days”) and Rowland’s to cancer (“Rite of Passage”)—and their private expressions of pain and loss can lend strength to anyone suffering as they have. Most of the album is about fortifying yourself internally—letting go of past trauma, fighting self-doubt, breaking from self-defeating patterns, pushing back against emotional shutdown—and that sort of work gets more crucial as our external support systems disappear or collapse. “Vengeance & Ruination” looks outside the self to indict state violence as the driver in a cycle of cruelty, and despite its antique language (“In the place where blood falls / And fills the earth, damnation blooms”) it reads as a clear condemnation of the modern carceral state. I wish I didn’t have to feel so relieved by this reassurance that one of my favorite bands aren’t MAGA fascists, but that’s politics in 2020 for you. v