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Pallbearer - Mind Burns Alive (Album Review)

Tuesday, 21 May 2024 Written by Matt Mills

Photo: Dan Almasy

Life hasn’t got any more chipper for doom metal experimentalists Pallbearer. On their previous album, 2020’s ‘Forgotten Days’, the Arkansas four-piece wrote lyrics lamenting the experience of watching family members live with Alzheimer’s and die of cancer. Four years later, ‘Mind Burns Alive’ offers even more unfettered melancholy: its six songs together form an anthology about “people in various stages of mental distress”.

The way that singer-guitarist Brett Campbell, singer-bassist Joseph D. Rowland, co-guitarist Devin Holt and drummer Mark Lierly soundtrack that strife, however, has been turned on its head. Where ‘Forgotten Days’ simplified Pallbearer’s downtempo yet complicated prog metal into more episodic, accessible material, ‘Mind Burns Alive’ is looser and quieter. 

The free thinking of post-rock-era Talk Talk and the gentler percussion of Peter Gabriel’s solo output were key touchstones, resulting in a genre-spanning anomaly.

Opener Where the Light Fades announces the dynamic spirit of this fifth album. Rather than a wholly metal experience, it’s a gradual climb towards a payoff, starting with echoing guitar notes and pensive vocal melodies. 

Daybreak later takes that stretched-out approach and pushes it to transparent limits. The track employs verses of nothing but singing and clean guitar, and separates them with rare yet effective segues of silence.

Other songs feel more sturdily built up, such as the 10-minute midpoint Endless Place. From the sound of spaghetti western acoustic guitar, this odyssey escalates to crushing rhythmic riffs, extroverted soloing and the gorgeous intertwining of Campbell and Rowland’s voices. A saxophone flurry reiterates this as the most maximalist moment on the record, though it’s not quite the most effective one.

That honour instead goes to the finale With Disease, which revisits the hushed tones of ‘Mind Burn Alive’ while upping the ante of its heaviness. As its closing minutes usher in the album’s darkest riff and a full-throated growl, Pallbearer send a raiding party into sludge metal territory. It’s one last daring gambit on what is, to its core, a daring gambit of a record.


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