It's a bit of a mystery that PALLBEARER has captured the adoration of a significant amount of people outside of the scope of metal, especially because the group doesn't seem to delve into currently accessible pockets. Classic doom rides in the driver's seat, and prog, in various form, sits comfortably as passenger. It's perhaps a combination of the band's timeless delivery and sound, Brett Campbell's tempered yet impassioned vocals, and the tasteful and digestible manner with which PALLBEARER leverages its abilities that might explain its crossover appeal. This has been evident since the group's 2012 debut, "Sorrow and Extinction". As multi-textured, memorable and inspiring as its debut was, in comparison, PALLBEARER's sophomore effort, "Foundation of Burden", made the debut seem one-dimensional.
"Heartless", its third full-length, finds the unit even more familiar and comfortable with its delivery and choice of sounds. It's perhaps not quite as colossal as the group's previous work. Yet, it's still just as multitudinous and nuanced, certainly even more introspective and pensive. "I Saw the End" starts things off with Campbell's memorable phrasing and a powerful, exceptionally emotive vocal delivery. The song builds to a climax midway, opening a path for a rich, lush guitar melody that brings to mind TYPE O NEGATIVE's Kenny Hickey. This is an obvious and immediate reference to PALLBEARER's having covered "Love You To Death" last year on its "Fear and Fury" EP.
As ambitious as the group's work has always been, it has never been quite as dramatic. It's successfully achieved that quality with a bold, creative reach that would otherwise be melodramatic if it failed. "Cruel Road", in particular, finds this power through Campbell's vocal performance, the energetic bursts of gang vocals, second guitarist Devin Holt's sustained notes and soulful soloing, and the massive, weighty doom metal conclusion.
PALLBEARER's proven ability to smoothly transition between doom and prog carries forth with "Heartless", though, more often than not, these elements are webbed together rather than attached separately. And ever so subtly, intentionally or not, there are even moments prepared with Americana in the subdued guitars, exhibited halfway through the mournful, simmering final track, "A Plea For Understanding", as well as in "Dancing in Madness". Both tracks exceed 10 minutes in length without feeling lengthy.
PALLBEARER has always required patience to fully digest, break down and process, whilst offering enough material that overtly satiates listeners' most immediate cravings. This hasn't changed with "Heartless", and while the group packs less of a visceral punch than they did on prior works, it has become more interesting than ever. This will most likely be one of the best albums of the year.