Metal in a new light



Metal is not my usual go-to musical genre. I find most head-banging musical styles repetitive, unnecessarily loud and even headache inducing. Yet, that door is not firmly shut to me.

There’s a crack and I sometimes do make use of that for an occasional peek into the dark, decibel-charged world of metal and its myriad sub-genres, which go by a plethora of prefixes: doom, death, black, nu, war, dark, sludge and so on.

Metal with melody: Pallbearer’s latest album, Foundations of Burden, held my attention the way no other metal band has managed to. (Photo:  Diana Lee Zadlo)

Metal with melody: Pallbearer’s latest album, Foundations of Burden, held my attention the way no other metal band has managed to. (Photo: Diana Lee Zadlo)

Sometimes during those rare forays, I’ve been lucky to discover some excellent bands, gems that shine in an otherwise dark and gloomy netherworld. That’s how some years back I discovered Sunn O))), the Seattle band that makes dark and heavy ambient music that’s curiously appealing; or Boris, the Japanese metal band, which is constantly experimenting with style; or, more recently, Deafheaven, a San Francisco band that somehow manages to blend shoegaze style, self-effacing music with typically metal-style vocal snarls and shrieks; and, Goatwhore, a more straightforward death metal band from a very musically different city, New Orleans.

That was my metal music checklist till last week: I chose from those four bands when the need to listen to that sort of thing arose (infrequently) and once that urge was satisfied, I’d go back to genres that I liked much better. Then, last week, I discovered a Little Rock, Arkansas-based doom metal band called Pallbearer. The grim connotation of their name is not coincidental: metal bands, particularly the ones that are of the doom or black or death type, have dark and gloomy themes in their music, their lyrics and their attitude.

Also watch: Pallbearer’s Foreigner

Still, Pallbearer’s name could seem as a misnomer. Unlike my short roster of metal bands (Sunn O)))); Boris; Deafheaven; and Goatwhore), Pallbearer is a metal band that is most unlike a metal band. Let me try and explain why that is not oxymoronic. First, here’s the easy part. Pallbearer has all the characteristics of a doom metal band: the guitars are tuned low; the music is sludgy and down tempo; the lyrics are forebodingly dark. Yet, it’s a band that can appeal to you even if you don’t like heavy metal. That’s because, its guitar riffs are sharper and clearer; there’s melody – something eschewed by others in the same genre – in the music; and the vocals by frontman Brett Campbell are delivered clearly and crisply.

Here’s a heads up: Kolkata-based indie rock band The Supersonics’ second album Heads Up is a beaut. (Photo:  Naman Saraiya)

Here’s a heads up: Kolkata-based indie rock band The Supersonics’ second album Heads Up is a beaut. (Photo: Naman Saraiya)

My first listen to Pallbearer was their latest album, Foundations of Burden (FoB), which is their second, after 2012’s debut album, Sorrow and Extinction (SaE). FoB is produced sparklingly and has none of the muddy deep sludge that contemporary metal bands thrive on. The tracks – there are six (all averaging 10 minutes in duration, barring one that’s surprisingly slightly over three minutes) – have great bass and guitar riffs, harkening back to the early days of heavy metal. Ten-11-and-12 minute doom metal tracks can get to become quite boringly stressful. Pallbearer’s songs don’t ever do. Beginning with the opener, Worlds Apart, right up to the closer, Vanished, which at 11:42 clocks in as the longest song, FoB held my attention the way no other metal band has managed to do, at least in recent years.

Also watch: Live at the FROG, The Supersonics – Collar Me

After FoB, I sought out the band’s first album, Sorrow and Extinction and had roughly the same experience listening to it – a vintage metal sound that is quite different from what is created by today’s metal outfits. Pallbearer, like many other metal bands, hat tips the 1970s British heavy metal pioneers, Black Sabbath. More than 35 years after I’d last heard Black Sabbath, I went back and heard their self-titled debut album from 1970: Tony Iommi’s guitar; Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals; and Geezer Butler’s bass and synths. I’d forgotten how vintage heavy metal sounded. And also how Gothic that album’s cover had looked.

I had been trying to put my finger on what made Pallbearer so different from contemporary metal bands. Now I knew. Pallbearer is far from being a clone of Black Sabbath but if you want to hear a contemporary version of ‘vintage metal’, it’s the band you should check out.

Tailpiece: If metal’s not your thing and yet you’ve laboured through till here, just as we were going to press, I heard Kolkata’s indie rock sensation once again. I’d written here about The Supersonics in 2009 when they released their debut album with the corny title, Maby Baking. Well, their second one, Heads Up, is out and it’s a beaut. After a break of five years, The Supersonics show that they have an originality few other Indian bands do. Their 10 fun songs have everything the doctor ordered: great guitar lines; nice vocals; good harmony; and a lot of sunshine. Quite the flip side of what you may have read higher up.

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