So I’ve figured it out, and hopefully I’m the first one. Foundations of Burden is a prequel. It’s a prequel to the first Pallbearer album, Sorrow and Extinction. I mean, think about it. The first album ends with “Extinction”, and the second album begins with “Foundations”. Accident? I think not. And then you look at the album covers:
The cover of the first album made things quite clear: this band is all about when things fall apart, fade away, and die. But then we get this new album, and Jesus, look at the cover. It’s vibrant! There’s a heart! Signs of life all over the place. The beginning, and not the end, of a journey. So apparently the band has interest in things other than decay, or at least wants to give the color red as much credit as the color black. But, before something can decay and die, it must of course be born, grow, breathe, and do all those other “living” things. So there. Life comes before death, and the second Pallbearer album comes before the first.
And no, I’m not done, so you can just keep on rolling your eyes, smartass. You see, there is another layer to this album’s anachronistic nature. The very first thing that struck me on my very first listen was how much it sounded like Candlemass, the Swedish progenitors of this so-called “doom metal” from way back in the 80s. Of course, it’s not to say that the whole album sounds like this, or that Pallbearer doesn’t still sound like their own, very unique selves, but I was nonetheless rather nonplussed at what appeared to me to be a step back, temporally and stylistically. Nonplus me, will ya!?
Now, in all seriousness, I’m going to tread lightly here, because I love Pallbearer, and have greatly enjoyed their new album so far, but I do expect some of what I have to say about it to be a bit sobering. Because I have to be honest when I say that the brutal nonplussing I received upon hearing this album bordered dangerously on disappointment. However, like little Nick Carraway I’m doing my best to reserve judgments, in part because I am quite confident that this album will continue to grow on me, as it already has some 3-4 listens down the road.
And maybe that’s the crux of the matter, that Foundations of Burden is a challenging listen. Sure, the first album was dense, but it grabbed me immediately. I was instantly enthralled by what a complete and convincing vision of bleakness and austerity it presented. Again, look at the cover: boundless and fragmented, completely devoid of hope, offering passage only to death. The end of all things. Again, a pretty fatalistic approach to a debut. But of course what’s best about the album is how faithfully and thoroughly the music conveyed this impression. It truly sounds like it could extend infinitely into both time and space. When I heard it I said, “Yes! This is the new doom, the true doom!” What a statement.
Obviously, such an instantly recognizable example of debut success puts bands in a tough position. I mean, what does the fans want now? Another album of the same? Or better yet, an album with even more bleakness and death? Are there people out there that can handle that, and where the hell do they get off? So it’s understandable that Pallbearer would not simply want to step forward, but maybe to the side a bit. This album simply sounds different, a lot of which we can chalk up to production. It’s a whole lot more immediate and down-to-earth, less ethereal and vast. It seems like some attention has shifted from overall atmospherics to a greater commitment to songcraft. Their focus has become more precise, and the (for the most part, desirable) results include more intricate composition and a greater variety of texture. People like me, who loved the crap out of the first album, might find that this shift in focus has forced Pallbearer to sacrifice some of the pure, endless despair that made their debut so unique and so new. But hey, they’re artists, and they can do whatever they want. We, on the other hand, are just idiot fans, and/or idiot bloggers.
I hope everyone knows that this has been more of a “first thoughts” than a “review”. Foundations of Burden is clearly the kind of album that will take some time to simmer before revealing all of its intricacies and depth, and I say that to its credit, and to Pallbearer’s. No, it doesn’t have the immediate impact that its predecessor did, but we mustn’t demand that it does. I think there’s enough here to affirm everyone’s conviction that Pallbearer will continue to establish itself as one of the most important bands in current heavy music. Whether Pallbearer is moving forwards, backwards, or sideways, they are moving somewhere, and we should all be excited to see where that will be.