Pallbearer – Mind Burns Alive

‘Like Paradise Lost in the early 1990s, Pallbearer continue to ease away from their origins but have at least one more album in them where they can continue to push boundaries at no damage to their credibility or fanbase,’ said Scream Blast Repeat in our review of 2020’s Forgotten Days LP. Fast forward four years and we’re at that point. Have they stretched the elastic as far as it can go before they cease to be a doom metal band?

The Arkansas quartet are experienced enough on their fifth album to handle some of the recording duties at their home studios. The music on Mind Burns Alive is intricate but not overcomplicated and minimalist yet multi-dimensional. Sentimental clean guitars form shapes like dots on your eyes after you stare at a bright object for too long in opener, ‘Where the Light Fades’. The vocals resonate with a magnanimous sorrow. Pallbearer’s music is as perspicuous as anything in rock. It allows you to follow the lyrics as if turning the pages of a book. Listen to the synth drones ache in the mix in the first pause at the three-minute mark. Brett Campbell and Joseph D. Rowland structure this song like a tumultuous story of which the main characters lose control of their destiny. You know that the guitars will evolve into a noisy shower of distorted power chords, yet that works in their favour.

The easy comparison for this music is Alice in Chains, but Pallbearer take inspiration from Opeth and Anathema in their louder moments. ‘Mind Burns Alive’ is more like Trouble under the songwriting stewardship of Jerry Cantrell. The sludgy riffing at the beginning is far heavier than anything that grunge produced in its heyday. Brett Campbell is not afraid to leave his voice naked and exposed in the opening verse with minimal guitar vibrations and a steady drumbeat. It gives him more room to project at a higher volume when he steps on the distortion pedal. The dreamy chord strokes in the quieter moments will remind you of the few Smashing Pumpkins songs composed by James Iha. Unlike Billy Corgan’s group, Pallbearer show less concern for limiting the lengths of their compositions.

Only one of the six cuts on this LP comes in below seven minutes. Pallbearer are happy to let the songs evolve with a nudge rather than a pre-planned strategy. The intro to ‘Signals’ sounds like the later Talk, Talk records where Mark Hollis moved away from synth pop and pioneered the genre of post-rock. Is Pallbearer’s real aim to take you out of the pace of modern life and into a slower lane, where you can breathe easier and make sense of your thoughts with a clearer mind? You could imagine this effort as a collaboration between Kurt Cobain (his acoustic voice) and Mogwai (their introspective minimalism). The unburdening of one’s anxieties finds its resolution in the last third of the song with a transition to heavier guitars. It feels like a welcome arrival of morning rain after a humid night between the sheets.

“I’ve always felt alone / Inside a room with curtains drawn,” Campbell reflects on ‘Daybreak’. This is another confident piece of vulnerability. Pallbearer don’t play the doom metal of their debut album anymore, but they’ve found their true sound in the cracks between sadness and fortitude. The grungy parts are as powerful as ever, but they never overpower the priority of the vocal lines and lyrics. Most bands would struggle to retain the listener’s attention at this stage of the album with such a constant onslaught of melancholy pondering. So, why are Pallbearer different? It depends on your mood. This music is perfect if you want to clear your head for a long walk in the countryside – not so much if you need something to motivate you before an important meeting at work.

Pallbearer leave you with aching cheek muscles the way a funeral does when you try to put on a solemn facial exterior. Campbell and Rowland see themselves as chroniclers of maudlin despair. End track, ‘With Disease’, lets the brooding bass linger like a shadow underneath the harmonising guitars. The dynamics are up and down but not in a demanding way. You should feel despondent, but you can handle more.

Their music might seem overly long from a distance, but Pallbearer are certain to age well over time. That’s because they construct an aura of melancholy sadness that few rock and metal artists can muster. It also eases the conscience of this reviewer in awarding them a seven out of ten, knowing that this will rise to an eight after another year of absorbing its hidden strengths.


Release Date: 17/05/2024

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Standout tracks: Where the Light Fades, Endless Place

Suggested Further Listening: The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness (1995), Anathema – Judgement (1999), Grey Skies Fallen – Cold Dead Lands (2020)