When people talk about modern doom metal, it’s not likely to be long before PALLBEARER comes up. For the better part of a decade the Arkansan quartet have earned widespread praise with critically acclaimed release after critically acclaimed release. Now the group return with their hotly anticipated fourth album, Forgotten Days.
The record follows the band’s 2017 release, Heartless, which saw them push the boundaries of their brand of doom with influences from a range of genres, including prog and alternative rock and metal. This time around they’ve returned to the more straight-ahead doom of their earlier releases. Forgotten Days is arguably the band’s heaviest record since their 2012 debut, Sorrow And Extinction. How listeners feel about that will depend very much on which of PALLBEARER‘s albums they prefer. Either way, there is no way of mistaking this for a doom-by-numbers record. It’s an expansive, often emotional offering from a band who continue to put out some of the best doom around.
It’s not just musically that Forgotten Days draws comparisons to the band’s debut. Bassist/vocalist Joseph D. Rowland has said that the album has a lot of thematic ties to Sorrow And Extinction. Specifically, much of the album’s lyrical content is inspired by the loss of Rowland’s mother, who passed away as the band were writing their first album. Along with vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell, Rowland explores the concept of family on this release, but not in a cheery sense of the word. Instead, the duo tackle topics such as loss, regret, and personal reflection.
The subject matter is a good suit to the masters of melancholy, with the band’s music well-matched to the weighty lyrics. As on previous releases, low tuned guitars and bass often move at glacial pace, creating a strong sense of sorrow. This is a crushingly heavy record, but not in an over the top extreme metal sense. It’s more like if one took the heaviest, doomiest stuff BLACK SABBATH ever did and added several mountains of modern weight to it.
That isn’t to say it’s all bleak though. PALLBEARER have always been capable of creating moments of beauty and melody, and Forgotten Days is no exception. These come mostly from Campbell’s often beautiful vocal lamentations, as well as the album’s many mournful guitar solos. Such solos are definitely a standout feature, often bringing to mind the thoughtful work of Alex Lifeson of RUSH.
It’s not just the guitar solos that draw RUSH comparisons. Campbell cites them as a direct influence, saying: “Look at RUSH in the late ’70s. They had pop songs. Great, classic songs next to the grand epics. That made the albums interesting and adventurous.” This influence is also heard in the use of synths on the record. Songs like Stasis, Silver Wings and Caledonia all feature 70s-esque synthesisers which wouldn’t sound out of place on classics like Moving Pictures.
In terms of highlights, perhaps the standout track is the 12 minute epic, Silver Wings. Unlike on previous releases, PALLBEARER keep most songs quite short – by their standards – on Forgotten Days. Silver Wings is the only track which exceeds ten minutes, and it shows the band can still nail it when they do decide to go long. The song opens with driving odd time signatures, building to a crescendo before dropping to ominous clean guitars. The band then come back in with more glacial, ponderous, funeral march-esque doom which hits so hard. This continues for much of the track’s runtime, with the exception of around the nine-ten minute mark. Here the band drop to a haunting, ethereal synth and vocal break before closing on a final melancholy guitar solo.
Other highlights include the album’s final two tracks. Rite Of Passage continues the band’s tight-rope walk between the bleak and the beautiful. It features yet another epic, thought-out guitar solo, and arguably the album’s most memorable chorus line from Campbell. Caledonia closes the album on something a little different. It’s definitely still a doom song, but at points, particularly in the verses, it could even draw comparisons to the post-punk of someone like DEPECHE MODE. It’s a powerful closer and an important final reminder of the wide pool of influences PALLBEARER so often draw from.
The songs mentioned may stand out, but Forgotten Days is ultimately a record worth listening to as a whole. It may be 53 minutes long, but it never feels like it. It’s a staggering, stunning album, masterfully produced by Randall Dunn. Once it ends, listeners will be left with little doubt that PALLBEARER are not only one of the best doom bands of all time, but one of the best metal bands in the world today.