Foundations of Burden
I am no unbiased source when it comes to the popularity of metal music. Dwelling within that world and waking anew in it every morning makes one forget that most people actually do not consume metal. In my mind, everyone else is geeking out to the new releases from Wreck and Reference, Wolves in the Throne Room and Mastodon like I am. That is until I am reminded of the fact that only a handful of people I interact with outside of the internet know who the hell those artists are. Yet artists like Pallbearer are reshaping the metal landscape into a “something for everyone” genre in ways it has never been. I may be sounding off like a broken Deafheaven record here, but the crossover hits keep coming, and Foundations of Burden is one of them.
With album artwork resembling a storyboard sketch from a long-lost Castlevania sequel from the ’90s, the visuals alone already soften the impending doom into something familiar and inviting. That’s your buffer for the first track because there is no easing into Worlds Apart. Instead you immediately smack into the south wall of a cavern filled with crunching rhythm guitars and a wailing solo riff. The pulse is slow and labored as if the subject has already been toiling with this song for some time now, but you’re now joining him mid-struggle.
Enter the vocalist. Brett Campbell is the respawning of Ozzy Osbourne in his prime, but with a solemnity and a command of vocal range that Black Sabbath never had. Campbell sustains vibratos and high notes for an impossible duration. An impossibility, as it’s been noted, that doesn’t necessarily carry over to a live show. His low end croons in The Ghost I Used to Be harken back to 2000’s post-grunge metal vocalists like Maynard James Keenan from Tool. I know I’m doing some top-tier metal name dropping to describe Campbell, but his sound earns the comparison.
Of course riffs tend to be the centerpiece of most metal, but rarely does it provide such a backbone from which the other appendages anchor. Foundations and Watcher in the Dark demonstrate the rhythmic norm that slow doom metal is used to. However, this doesn’t hinge on Mark Lierly’s drumming. Rather, his strikes reach out from the sludgy substrate floor already laid out by Campbell and Devin Holt on guitars and Joseph Rowland on bass. The lower than low tuning throughout the album broadcasts an unending sadness from which the lead anthems try to tow you out. The pedal board does get its fair toggles at the end of Foundations, however, remaking that almost clean tone reminiscent of John Frusciante’s closing strums on Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under the Bridge.
A something for everyone approach runs the danger of falling flat on its face, but Foundations of Burden pulls it off brilliantly. Playing like a triumphant heartbreak, it carries the seriousness of the doom metal genre along with the anthemic courage of metal’s classic rock forefathers. Listening to it tugs at the nostalgia strings laced from both the primordial days of metal as well as its less reputable, grungy period. It is accessible enough to warrant the crossover moniker, but fashionable enough to hold the attention of niche enthusiasts. This album is worthy enough for me to assume everyone’s heard it when they haven’t.