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Pallbearer Deliver a Colorful, ’70s-Soaked Psychedelic Trip on Heartless

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Gosh, I love me the tunes these Arkansas boys in Pallbearer make. And the tunes they’ve dropped on this new joint Heartless are not only their best yet, but the artistic step forward they needed to take.

Heartless breathes with the looseness of a ’70s prog-rock album: guitar solos are casually tossed out, tones are subtly designed and neatly layered, and the rhythm section is clean and effective. Much like Mastodon did on Crack the Skye, Pallbearer have found a way to access the energy of that era, rather than simply imitating the stylistic traits of bands like Genesis or King Crimson. If anything, Heartless‘ closest sonic-sisters are Wishbone Ash’s Argus, Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead, or The Band’s Music From Big Pink — albums that have eminently familiar elements but aren’t all that easily categorized.

And like albums by Wishbone Ash or The Band, what makes Heartless such an enjoyable listen is how it’s played. Pallbearer’s previous full-length, the Billy Anderson-produced Foundations of Burden, was so intricately designed and multi-layered that the actual “band” elements felt buried. Part of this may be due to the recording conditions for Foundations, which according to bassist Joseph Rowland, were pretty isolated, uncomfortable, and borderline-obsessive.

By contrast, Heartless was self-produced by the band and recorded entirely to analog tape at Fellowship Hall Sound in Little Rock, where most of Pallbearer’s members live. This home-turf comfort produced a group effort, and as Dave Grohl is always harping on, the best music is made when a band gets in a room and rips. And man, this thing sounds good — full of more fuzzy ear-pleasers than a Taylor Swift album.

The classic ‘Bearer licks are all there, but the band is also widening their lens. The organ-drenched melodic opening of “Dancing in Madness” is a lighter-ready, spark-it-up arena rock anthem. “Cruel Road” shows the band grooving at a Sabbath’s pace, featuring a climactic riff progression with thick, satisfying chords. The album’s climaxes, which include the title track and weighty closer “A Plea For Understanding” are maybe the band’s most realized songs yet – combining the band’s ambitious scope with melodic momentum. They’re also pretty, uh, trippy, man.

That’s not to say this is some jam-record, despite the song lengths (which average seven minutes, the longest nearly thirteen). Heartless is lengthy yet breezy, packed full of musical ideas where their previous efforts leant more on repetition. The subtitle reads “a long-playing record by Pallbearer” and that basically sums it up. This is the kind of cinematic record you pop on during a long walk or night-drive, to just lean back and enjoy a trippy little voyage, like Gorguts’ phenomenal Pleiades’ Dust from last year. Pallbearer are known for being gloomy — and gloomy this album definitely is — yet they’ve managed to concentrate that emotion into making their most exciting, entertaining work yet.

Pallbearer’s Heartless comes out March 24th via Profound Lore. Pre-order it here.

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