Three years ago at a Pallbearer show in San Diego, a beautiful thing happened: Between sets, while the opening band was loading out, Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” started playing on the P.A. In unison, several dozen people begun chanting without missing a beat, “You’ve seen life through distorted eyes, you know you had! to! learn!” That a room full of people, a few beers in, waiting to watch an epic doom metal band, would know all the words to the song isn’t necessarily surprising—but everyone was there, together, celebrating the band that started it all with the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a drunken doom-metal sing-along. I’m not exaggerating when I say I found this simple moment of community revelry genuinely touching.
Had Pallbearer not been distracted by the burden of touring-band logistics, they might have been right there with everyone. Never a nostalgia-first act, especially in a landscape where Sabbath worship is a way of life, the Arkansas group has nonetheless held to a vintage interpretation of doom metal throughout their career, a progressive form of melancholic heaviness that nods as much to ’80s-era progenitors such as Candlemass and Pagan Altar. But “Forgotten Days,” the leadoff track of their album of the same name, is perhaps the first time that the group’s ever unleashed a riff that actually sounded like it could have been played by Tony Iommi. Taut, raw and heavy on groove (and done in under seven minutes), “Forgotten Days” opens up what feels like the band’s hardest rocking, most freewheeling set of songs to date.
Pallbearer’s 2017 album Heartless signaled a potential shift in this direction through anthems like “Thorns,” but by and large that album found the group pursuing the farthest depths of their deepest prog tendencies. Forgotten Days, their first for Nuclear Blast, is often as intricate but never as complicated; the instrumentation on “Stasis,” for instance, finds Brett Campbell and Devin Holt’s guitars intertwined in dual-lead majesty, but the end result feels more like Thin Lizzy at half speed than the majestic dirges of their debut, Sorrow & Extinction. There’s a similar old-school heavy metal gallop to “The Quicksand of Existing,” which at four minutes is likely the shortest proper song on any Pallbearer album to date. That’s not a trivial distinction, either; these tracks all feel as heroic and massive as anything they’ve done before, but they’re more compact, more concise. They haven’t retired from the gargantuan journeys into psychedelic doom—”Silver Wings” is the lone sidelong monolith here, and its many detours and interludes provide the sort of soundtrack for questing that the best Pallbearer songs often do. It’s just that Forgotten Days finds them sounding more like a band (ironically) locked in to live-performance mode—loud, taut and letting the riffs fly.
To characterize Forgotten Days as Pallbearer’s most accessible, most visceral album, even if it’s not necessarily their best album (Sorrow and Foundations are masterpieces, after all). That does require some qualification perhaps—they’ll never go for the pure endorphin rush of High on Fire, a band with whom they’ve toured, but when given the chance to get a little looser, show a little more of their pop songwriting muscle, they prove just as adept as they are at their more meticulously constructed epics. Simply put, they sound like they’re having fun with it, which might seem like the antithesis of doom. But maybe that’s just because you’ve never sung along to “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” with a room full of strangers at the top of your lungs.
Label: Nuclear Blast
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.