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Heartless is borderline soulless - 69%

HeavyMetalMeltdownReviews, May 19th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Nuclear Blast

Doom. Doom can be an awfully picky genre, from those initial rumblings from Birmingham with Black Sabbath, to those that trail blazed the scene such as Candlemass, Trouble, Pentagram and Saint Vitus. Post this, doom made love with many other genres, stoner, black, sludge, the list goes on and on. The only downside to this, is that yes, doom multiplied like horny rabbits and there are now literally thousands of bands, with a lot of it being generic boring doom that is best avoided. However, as with most genres, there are a lot of diamonds gleaming from the stone.

From out of literally nowhere, Pallbearer exploded onto the scene in 2012 with their storming debut, 'Sorrow and Extinction', followed 2 years later by the equally good 'Foundations of Burden' and this leads us to 3 years later, 2017 and the much anticipated third album from Pallbearer, 'Heartless'. This time Pallbearer have moved on from Profound Lore Records and into the big time with Nuclear Blast Records and this shows instantly with 'Heartless'. The lilac album cover coupled with the very retro introduction on the cover itself of: ‘'Heartless' – a long playing record by Pallbearer’ brings up memories of the 60’s and/or those Indie bands that look like hipsters and try to be retro.

'Heartless' kicks off with the rather beautiful 'I Saw the End' and that gleaming production burns through the speakers immediately showing that Nuclear Blast expect Pallbearer to be at the cutting edge of their label, but Hang about? Is this Pallbearer? Where are the crunching, droning guitars that got Pallbearer where they are? 'Heartless' signals a huge step away from their previous sound with the album focusing more on multiple melodies that swathe and interweave together more like a classical composition than your regular average song. However, there are glimpses of Pallbearer’s previous work, if you were a fan of 'The Ghost I Used to Be' from 'Foundations of Burden', then tracks such as 'Dancing in Madness' and 'Cruel Road' will be right your up street.

One of the main points about 'Heartless' that may interest people is that it attempts to break the norms set down by genres over the years. In 'Heartless' you will find no chorus’ and very few hooks that will pull you in which goes for some very difficult listening and can easily fall into the category of background noise. Obviously, there is a perfectly acceptable amount of droning expected from a doom record and as you would expect, 'Heartless' is no different. The main issue with 'Heartless' is that this droning just doesn’t go anywhere and although there are parts to certain songs that make your ears prick up and go, hang on, what did they just do there? It is far and few between.

The vocals of Brett Campbell are a lot stronger on 'Heartless' than previous releases which beautifully twine and drift ethereally over the music and this is shown perfectly in 'I Saw the End', the lengthy 'A Plea for Understanding' and album’s initial video release, 'Thorns'. However, it is 'A Plea for Understanding' that steals the show with Pallbearer waiting for the end of the record to unleash it and if this marks the start of a new venture for Pallbearer then they won’t find a better benchmark than that song.

All in all, 'Heartless' is a huge step for Pallbearer, the question is; is it necessarily in the right direction? There are some very good melodies on 'Heartless', but a melody can’t carry an album alone and you have to question whether the refusal to follow the norms was a good idea, but only hindsight will tell. 'Heartless' will be an album that will divide Pallbearer’s fanbase, there are those that will thoroughly enjoy 'Heartless' and those which is distance themselves from it. The only way to choose is to buy the album yourself and make up your own mind.