In case anyone fell off the train in the past three years, it’s worth reiterating that Pallbearer basically became Boston with a beefy guitar tone on Heartless. After two albums of slow-motion Black Sabbath worship, the Arkansas doom metal quartet made a confident stride into classic prog-rock territory. In fact, my only issue with Heartless was that the increased technicality necessitated less low-end rumble. Compared to a rafter-shaking opus like 2012’s Sorrow and Extinction, Heartless left a void for Forgotten Days to fill.
While not exactly a return to form, Forgotten Days brings the heavy back while retaining the development presented by the previous Pallbearer album. With Randall Dunn, who’s produced for the likes of Earth and Sunn O))), behind the mixing board, the title track’s opening riff will cave in your ear drums. With a live, gritty drum sound and a smoky guitar tone, it’s the kind of song that sounds best turned up to 11. Its themes of paranoia and mental turmoil recall the Black Sabbath classics, as Brett Campbell’s voice channels Ozzy Osbourne’s spirit.
The song recalls Heartless’ dynamics and riff changes with a much more direct impact. Take Devin Holt’s rousing guitar leads and drummer Mark Lierly’s mid-tempo stomp on “Riverbed,” during which Campbell gives one of the best vocal performances of his career. “I’ll beg to start anew/ If it will cauterize the wounds,” he sings over the song’s electric guitar harmonies and sludgy grooves. The chorus is almost poppy, by Pallbearer standards.
Eight years after he eulogized his late mother with Sorrow and Extinction, this album finds Campbell striving to transcend his trauma. He examines the plight of emotional stagnation with a pair of four-minute songs: “Stasis” and “The Quicksand of Existing.” The former’s nimble leads and the latter’s gnarled chugs carry a will to persevere as life itself seems to become the trap.
Both songs have their share of synthetic effects and curveball switch-ups, but these niceties only soften the heart before pure crushing doom dashes it to pieces. The 12-minute monster “Silver Wings” brings this effect to an intoxicating head.
After two minutes of exhilarating choppiness, the band drops into a low-and-slow procession on par with its earliest material. The nearness of the album’s sound adds to the song’s intense bump, topped off by Campbell’s devastating ode to unavoidable demise: “The slow march of time/ Turns even the greatest of triumphs/ To nothing.”
The song solidifies itself as the album’s centerpiece as its numerous tempo changes culminate in a stupefying display of forlorn strings, dueling guitars and gnarled bass tones by Joseph D. Rowland. He and Campbell have a particular chemistry on this track, knowing just when to support each other vocally and when to add some psychedelic keyboard strains.
While it’s great to have the heaviness back, it’s reassuring that Forgotten Days doesn’t sacrifice too much of Heartless’ stylistic expansion. Approaching cuts like “Vengeance & Ruination” and “Rite of Passage” expecting slow and slower will only result in disappointment. Playing more into the band’s old-school prog leaning, these songs prove Pallbearer can play doom while maintaining its ambition. This has a lot to do with the production, which gives weight to the glacial distortion and clarity to the shreddy detours.
The plodding beat and shoegaze-like intro of “Caledonia” gives way to a final dirge of emotive intensity, to a point where the seismic drops don’t make their presence known until they hit you in the sternum. Though never overindulgent, this track finds all four musicians giving it everything they have. Campbell’s singing feels like a stream of consciousness as he encapsulates the inner struggle he’s experienced since his mother passed. “I can hardly muster a goodbye/ And I’m pleading for numbness to survive/ Every day when clarity reveals/ I’ve lost the will to let myself heal,” he sings.
Forgotten Days finds Pallbearer at its most raw. Combining elements of the band’s past and present, the album becomes a cohesive, passionate statement. Fans of old will have more to headbang to, while more recent fans retain a progressive entry point and newcomers will get a great summation of the past 12 years of Pallbearer.