Pallbearer : Mind Burns Alive

Pallbearer Mind Burns Alive review

I admit I was worried Pallbearer had lost the juice. The Little Rock doom metal band released their debut album Sorrow and Extinction when I was 23, in the throes of the bleak pit of my early adulthood, fresh with wounds and rambling more like a jackal than a person. Its fusion of doom metal and progressive rock appealed deeply to both of those major aspects of my selfhood, with songs that felt like unfurling universes, scores to profound galaxy-spanning existential confusion. Their follow up record, along with Ihsahn’s Eremita and Thin Lizzy’s Bad Reputation, scored a likewise turbulent period in my life, as I faced the ramifications of the beast I had become in pain. (A common event in lives in spaces streaked with art and alcohol, trauma and sex, poverty and drugs.) A show on their tour for Heartless was one of the first shows me and my now-wife attended together. I’d even briefly chatted with the band on Twitter about Yes deep cuts, where they encouraged me to revisit the title track of perennially-maligned Big Generator to witness the buried prog metal fervor of it. So when Forgotten Days dropped and they had seemingly replaced their vast and meticulous prog doom, which read before like an extended fusion of Type O Negative, goth-prog era Anathema and ’70s Genesis, with something more akin to a doomier Porcupine Tree, I was initially excited by the simpler and more direct material but eventually was left indifferent, something that had never happened before.

I mention this because discussions I’ve had with friends regarding my reviewing the promo copy of their new record has repeated these same themes across multiple people. These general sentiments recur again and again: the shockingly complete aesthetic vision of their debut, the emotionally refined document of its follow up, the third record which erred often more toward prog metal than to doom metal per se, and then disappointment. These discussions kept focusing on the same thought regarding Forgotten Days, the immediate predecessor to this new album: it is not a bad album but rather a solid set of material that, in the shadow of what came before, feels lacking.

So it was a profound relief when, after a few exploratory spins first of the first few singles to prime myself for Mind Burns Alive, I sensed the band I saw in those first three albums. It’s funny: on review of their previous record to prep for writing about this one, I found substantially more dynamic range in those pieces than I recalled, but for some reason they felt less dynamic, even if technically they weren’t. This record immediately gives you a sense of splendor, a placid unfurling of some grandeur, reminding me of the quite bucolic wing of smaller-run progressive rock of the ’90s and forward that was inspired largely by former-Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips’ solo material. The album opener is a mere six and a half minutes but feels emotionally like it goes on for 20, in a positive sense, opening an emotional ocean immediately. The rest of the album remains in this tender and sensitive space, employing an album-compositional approach they used on those first three magical records of starting gentle and more meticulously arranged and delicate before using heaviness to underscore an emotional beat, all to great effect. Importantly, this albums feels like an extension of their work, effectively writing over Forgotten Days to provide a true follow up to Heartless in what feels like a new-fourth album in the lineage of their sonic development.

There is also a great deal more sincere and unabashed beauty here than before, major key and gleaming, another continuation of an idea that found itself taking solid root on Heartless (and continuously explored to some degree on Forgotten Days). The texture here reminds me, to return to the topic of Anathema, to their own shift over time from death-doom to a wider and more Nordic approach to prog rock as seen in bands like Airbag and the like. This agnosticism toward metal, toward being strictly metallic, is intensely becoming of the band; the clean vocals, which before had been good for heavy metal, now have a sincere sweetness to them that reminds me of great country and singer-songwriter performers; the dynamism on display here reveals an emotional and artistic capacity beyond mere metal.

Forgotten Days may have been a return to basics, or basics of a sort, that was enticing to some. For me, this intense exploding open of the capabilities of the band is far more exciting. Once again the future feels not only bright but wide for the group. One could just as easily imagine them dropping a 20-minute quite floral and pastoral progressive rock suite following this as a short and bittersweet folk ballad, let alone another heavy and glowering epic. This is the form I am glad they returned to: the polycapable and polyformal and, most importantly, hyper-emotive.

Label: Nuclear Blast

Year: 2024

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Pallbearer Mind Burns Alive review

Pallbearer : Mind Burns Alive

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