After a 3-year wait, Arkansas doom inspired metal outfit Pallbearer are back with a brand new album called Forgotten Days. Eight songs of dark and doomy vibes with a prog edge. The 4-piece have been around since 2008 when Brett Campbell (vocals and guitar) met (bassist and backing vocalist) Joseph D Rowland at university. They quickly added another guitarist in Devin Holt and set about making the sort of music they liked. They went through a few drummers until they found Mark Lierly who joined just after the release of their debut Sorrow And Extinction. These 4 guys are now on their third album with the same line-up. The album deals with loss, not only in physical death but the loss of a person due to Alzheimer’s, the horrendous disease which results in families having loved ones who have limited memory of their past and indeed the present, and who frequently end up not recognizing their own families when they are sitting talking to them. The lyrics in a number of tracks does a terrific job in capturing the emotions around the illness with at least one track definitely seeming to come from the perspective of the person who has the illness. Challenging lyrics that go along with powerful and emotional music.
A Look At The Songs:
Opening the album is the title track “Forgotten Days” which starts with sort of a white noise, nothing seems clear, perhaps capturing how things sound to a person who has Alzheimer’s. The opening lyrics say “dark clouds move closer at the edges of my mind“, the person knowing at the start what is happening but revealing how slowly things are “obscuring, consuming my perception of time“. The fear and desperation is expressed very well and to me, it sounds like Brett who says (in the press release) that his gran dealt with this disease spent some time researching the subject as well as experiencing it firsthand in the family. Musically it goes through sections, again perhaps trying to capture the mood of the patient as things worsen. That is personally how I felt it to mean whether that was the intention or not. Good writing does open up all sorts of possibilities! A very powerful song.
As I said several tracks could very well also be a look at that illness, but they could also be about death or transformation in life as age changes us. For instance, the absolute epic track “Silver Wings” (12 minutes long) does mention “I can’t remember who I once was“, but the writing of the whole piece does not make it clear as it could be about changes in a person as time passes by in general. There are about 4 changes of mood and pace all within the first 3 or 4 minutes with the vocals not coming in until about 3 of them have passed. It is quite a progressive piece and they use synths to very good effect at points, not swamping the song but just adding extra texture. What is interesting is that some of the guitar melodies are quite uplifting in feel despite it being a dark and doomy track. The final solo in particular has a perfect balance of beauty and sadness.
“Caledonia” caught my attention due to that title being the name of one of the most loved anthems for my country of Scotland (that track being written by Dougie MacLean and made more famous by Frankie Miller). I wasn’t surprised that of course it has nothing specifically to do with the land of Scotland but is about a place in their home area which bears the same name. I did some googling and from what I can tell it is a couple of hours drive from Little Rock (where some of the band hail from) itself and has at least 2 cemeteries. It is a slow-moving track on the whole with some fine riffing at suitable points. It is the sort of track that carries you, in this instance lyrically away from the small parish where I am guessing some family are buried. Again the soloing is very tasteful, in keeping with the words. There is sadness yet there is a sense of inspiration, of hope that conquers.
When I mention “progressive” I also think of a couple of tracks that hint at latter-day Rush, with one track “Riverbed” having a vibe in the heavier sections that made me think of the Vapor Trails album. On “Stasis” Brett also has a hint of latter-day Geddy Lee going on. Musically this track hinted at Alice In Chains. Both are good songs. “Rite Of Passage” made me think of Tool to a small extent. The song is very powerful with lyrics going “did part of me die while watching you go” which ties in with either the illness or death itself. I think perhaps the former though due to the line “not fully alive, just a shadow to be” which would certainly fit the description of any form of dementia.
This album is definitely a bit different from previous albums as there is less crushing doom metal than before, as there is more subtlety here to go along with the lyrics which are thoughtful, intelligent and moving. I think I would call it a very grown-up album due to the themes here as well as the delivery of the material. There is still plenty of classic Sabbath and Candlemass but they have branched out further and made something which grows on each listen and remains with you after it is over.
Album out October 23 on Nuclear Blast Records!