And here it is. Finally. With the obvious question being, after such a momentous build-up, can the band really hope to appease fans (or critics)? I won't keep you waiting for the answer. Sorrow And Extinction is flawless, and Pallbearer have exceeded all your expectations.
Doom is the birthplace of metal, the ancestral vein from which all other heavy lodes are mined. Its nucleus is comprised of a quintessential set of principles—woeful and morbidly reflective narratives, gloom-laden atmospherics, lugubrious pacing, and monolithic riffs—all of which were set in stone by the mighty overlords, Sabbath.
While the roll call of doom bands is enormous, the truly legendary outfits have always exemplified those foundational hallmarks. One listen to Sorrow And Extinction is you'll need to discover that Pallbearer have all the authenticity, virtuosity and creativity to join the ranks of the very best doom bands.
From the opening moments of the epic "Foreigner", Pallbearer cut straight to the heart of doom, with a delicate somber intro that is soon trampled by seething and despondent riffs. The track is one of two re-recordings from the band's demo—the other being the hypnotically grinding "The Legend" — and it's a superb introduction to the unremitting heaviness and moroseness that follows.
All of Sorrow And Extinction's five songs are awash in buzzing and distorting analogue tones, and all are crestfallen and desolate. Guitarists Devin Holt and Brett Campbell produce amp-fusing riffs aplenty, but aside from the crushing chords, their intricate soloing adds plaintive flourishes throughout the album. "An Offering of Grief", with its acoustic respites and escalating solos, is a spectacular example of the melding of their six-string prowess. And let's not forget bassist Joseph Rowland's superb backline thump, or drummer Chuck Schaaf's palpable percussive might, both of which are keenly felt on "Devoid of Redemption."
Musically, the band are beyond reproach, delivering outstanding prog-flecked traditional doom, dusted with the reinvigorating spirit of the late '80s scene. But it's Campbell's voice that seals the deal, cutting through the downcast, albeit melodic, miasma. His vocals have all the authority of doom's finest singers—think the achingly beautiful soulfulness of Patrick Walker, the streetwise scruffiness of Wino, and the howling glory of Messiah Marcolin.
There's a confident determination about Sorrow And Extinction. Where other bands might have faltered or taken nervous missteps on their debut, Pallbearer sound utterly self-assured. The evidence of the band's songwriting expertise — hell, their songwriting genius — can be found on any track, but is best exemplified on the 10-minutes of "Given to the Grave". During the initial five tantalizing minutes the band layer on the choral keys and winding solos, relentlessly ramping up the tension.
And then the hammer drops. Waves of all-enveloping and pulverizing riffs blended with Campbell's sorrowful wails wash over you. It's breathtaking. And as the song stretches out, with psych, blues and prog-worthy oscillations galore, the stunningly imaginative abilities of the band—their capacity to shift expertly from introspective fragility to soaring majesty—is made abundantly clear.
My pick for the best metal release for 2011 was 40 Watt Sun's gloomy tour de force, The Inside Room — an album I feel is close to perfect. Sorrow And Extinction is even better. It would be easy to summarize the album and by saying it's a consummate release, symbolizing everything that is grand (and magnificently grim) about doom metal. But while Pallbearer's reverence for the core attributes of doom is profound and sincere, it would do the band a huge disservice to not mention the mesmerizing and overwhelming emotionality of the album.
It's magnificently crafted, but more than that, it is an album that reaches in and touches your soul, enshrouding you in unparalleled solemnity. Hopelessness, sorrow and pain have never, ever, sounded so alluring. Rising from the morose quagmire of subterranean doom, Pallbearer stand proud as true exponents of resonant and poignant artistry. And hey, keep this in mind. This is only the band's debut.
(Released February 21, 2012 on Profound Lore)