Expectations run high for Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer's sophomore full-length. On their 2012 debut, Sorrow and Extinction, the Arkansas doom quartet established itself by bringing something back to the genre that had been missing -- at least partially -- since Black Sabbath: innate lyricism and dynamics rather than simply volume-centric, plodded-out variations on A-minor. Produced by Billy Anderson (Sleep, Agalloch), Foundations of Burden expands upon its predecessor's approach. Here, vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell has learned to control his high-register instrument. Also welcome is the rhythmic invention of more agile new drummer Mark Lierly. Here, Pallbearer more seamlessly weave together the different schools of doom (classic, stoner, funeral, epic, black, etc.). Devin Holt's melodic guitar riff on "Worlds Apart" is the signal for Campbell to open the gates of sung emotion that fall in waves. Anderson's layered chorus approach to vocals is fantastic. Joseph D. Rowland's bass is on stun; the guitars rumble and twist. They illustrate the grief and loss in Campbell's voice. "Foundations" is crustier. Stacked guitars, basslines, and the crash cymbal's bell deliver a weighty intro. A knottier melodic vamp comes dangerously close to prog metal, but doesn't go there. The long instrumental intro on "Watcher in the Dark" is almost abstract. It finally comes together as a single monstrous riff before Campbell enters in nearly monotone style. From there, the track shifts and sprawls as Holt goes deep and wide in his solo. "Ashes" is uncharacteristically brief at only a shade over three minutes -- everything else falls in the eight- to 11-minute range. But it's musically radical too, scored by electric piano, ambient sonic textures, loads of reverb, and fragile vocals. But there's a precedent: even Sabbath on Vol. 4's "Laguna Sunrise" used lilting, introspective, neo-classical music as an interlude. ("Ashes" is more imaginative, let alone enjoyable.) "The Ghost I Used to Be" is a stunner with its rolling tom-toms, bass chords, single-string riffs, and textured space, creating a tense but illuminating melodic frame for the coming thunder and devastating loss expressed by Campbell, supported by Rowland's urgently shouted refrain. Closer "Vanished," with its introductory processional, comes out of the gate with bruising force; it becomes nearly martial in its instrumental attack. But again, Campbell's singing adds balance to the piledriving riffs and throbbing bass and drums. He adds another emotional dimension that highlights longing inside nearly suffocating bleakness. In sum, Pallbearer's rather singular -- and possibly commercially viable -- doom is based on the tradition's tropes, not the music of their peers. Requisite darkness is all over Foundations of Burden, but it isn't the only shade of emotion here. There's the hint of a glimmer in each song that other doom bands can't conceive, let alone get to. The album and its production make catharsis part of an evolutionary process, not an end in itself.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek