Pallbearer’s “Sorrow and Extinction
If you were to describe Southern metal in one word, you could do worse than “sludge.” Bands in the South, at least the ones of commercial and critical import, tend to be sludgier: downtuned, slower tempo, and carrying an osmotic imprint of the blues (if not unconsciously) on nearly every regional variant of the genre. Acts such as Baroness, Mastodon, Black Tusk, Eyehategod, Crowbar certainly vary in the spectrum from power metal to hardcore to doom, but that same vibe is there: It is sloppy, fuzzy, warm, bass-driven and bears an underlying nastiness that just won’t wash out. Sludge, in short, is the vomit-covered jeans of the metal scene…it is cheap-weed-smoking, whiskey-hangover, hate-fucking music.
To this arena comes Little Rock, Arkansas’ Pallbearer, and their excellent album, Sorrow and Extinction (2012, Profound Lore Records).
Pallbearer stylistically straddle the divide between classic doom metal (think St. Vitus, Trouble) and sludge (Eyehategod, Confessor), and they do so far more gracefully than do some acts with a more hardcore bent (like Crowbar). And, as with bands like Sleep or Slow Horse, the songs here are not ambitious in their scope. They reach just high enough to be within the talent of the guys, and yet do not overstretch, which is actually a credit to the musicianship of Pallbearer. It is a mature group that avoids sonic dead weight so tempting in a stoner/doom/sludge act.
Now, to the album. Beginning with the intro track, “Foreigner,” you are greeted with everything you need to know about this release: a lovely acoustic melody yields to grainy feedback, which in turn coalesces into the nasty as fuck churning of Devin Holt. Next, cue the whiskey-smooth vocals of Brett Campbell juxtaposing that honey with the vinegar. (As an aside, the guitar tone throughout is not technically perfect, but it is perfect for this album).
You cannot say enough about the rhythm section, either. Bassist Joseph Rowland’s tone is inviting, audible and thick throughout the entire album. Zach Stine on drums instantly brings life to a riff which may otherwise become tiresome. Then, at the 8:32 mark, Campbell perfectly tracks the rhythm section with his vocals. This is the most-Sabbath of all moves. (The Sabbath influence-cum-Crowbar-crossover is especially apparent in the second track “Devoid of Redemption”)
Thematically, the lyrics are pure doom: loss, isolation, surcease. For instance, in the finale -the ten-plus minute, “Given to the Grave”, the lyrics are comprised solely of the following:
Carry me to my grave
When at long last my journey has ended
On the path that leads from here into oblivion
And no more sorrow can weigh me down
Effective? Sure. But nothing that is going to move anyone to greater heights of emotion. Then again, lyrics aren’t the point here. Atmosphere is. This is bluesy, sludge doom, with all the sorrowful harmony of Sabbath and so little of the weed affectations that afflict the genre.
Final verdict? There are some things that drag the album down a bit further than need be. For instance, the entire track “the Legend” sounds like a B-Side from Crowbar. Also, the lyrics could use some depth (see Mourning Beloveth for how to do this). Still, it is excellent… mead become prison-hooch; silk into denim. “Sorrow and Extinction” is as Southern as metal gets, and Pallbearer nail both doom and sludge while paying homage to their blues roots. Well done.