Pallbearer represent the best doom has to offer with raw emotionality, deft musicianship, and thematic dedication on Mind Burns Alive

Release date: May 17, 2024 | Nuclear Blast | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Stream/Purchase

At this point, doom is just a feeling. Y’all saying ‘well, yeah, no shit’, but what I mean is it’s surpassed a singular genre sound at this point. Ever since Black Sabbath, it’s been iterated on, made slower, made faster, smoked out with stoner vibes, brought up to space, brought down to hell, even blackened like a piece of chicken. It has enjoyed wonderful expansion to the point where it could qualify as its own genre with accompanying subgenres. Doom appreciators these days know Pallbearer are one of the biggest names out right now and given their repertoire over the years, it’s easy to see why. After this album though? It’s nigh impossible to not give them their flowers as one of the best out there.

Since 2011’s Sorrow and Extinction, they’ve built entire worlds to navigate with weighty doom that always had a melodic path through it all, though they also excel with tapping into the very palatable doom our own world houses. I think no matter what you thematically build a doom album around, it has to feel like doom. There’s a few ways to do that, and the best of the best know exactly how to evoke it. With Mind Burns Alive, a tough balance is struck by Pallbearer, ‘navigating the space between disquiet and serenity with a singular intensity‘ so says the band on their Bandcamp page. This is a tough thing to put into words, but it’s keenly felt in each of Mind Burns Alive‘s six songs.

Everyone who cares has heard “Where The Light Fades” by now – if not, it’s embedded above. It’s certainly a light track, but captures that space between disquiet and serenity the band talk about so well. There’s a feeling of peace and tranquility in the clean guitars and the very purposeful way the song moves along, but there’s also this looming realization that it can and will end any time as all good things do. You’re constantly fighting between preparing for the inevitable malaise to drape over your face as you stare up at the dusk sky, and enjoying the moment for what it is and what it’s doing to you, for you. Both can’t coexist – one is always overtaking the other. The lyrics are similarly contemplative, weighing bliss against reality:

‘Maybe we could fly
But we never learned
To grow our wings
Maybe heaven’s waiting
But we will never know
From so far down’

Using some well-placed synths during a reprise of the main guitar melody helps build atmosphere for the crash of the inevitable with Brett Campbell belting out ‘feel my head going under‘. It took be a bit to warm up to this song, but now it’s one of my favorites the band has ever produced.

Even better still is the title track up next which is classic Pallbearer turned up to 11. By now, you get that even with how vigorous the instrumentation is, the soundscapes are more spacious than they have been before on average. Campbell’s voice is also seated forward often, him strongly enunciating his words instead of riding the melody with a more epic inflection. Personally, I prefer the latter and that’s what makes the hook of “Mind Burns Alive” so fucking immense. The verses are very calm and low, practically a harsh whisper and really showing the vocal range Campbell keeps in the tuck. The whole song has a tangible effect about it and seeing how it’s a doomy missive on mental illness – ‘my mind has ignited/I can feel it burning down‘ – thus giving it quite an evocative touch.

These two songs alone make up the emotional and thematic core of Mind Burns Alive. Not to discount the other four songs before their time comes – and it will come – but they are particularly astute, especially with their shorter run times, in coagulating a sense of pale dread, but also a resignation at the way things are, a comfort in the knowledge that life demands an ebb and flow, a creation for every destruction. It’s like feeling at peace with death before you fully succumb to it – and you will. In a way, it’s like a mastery over fear, sadness, or anger.

“Endless Place” is a wonderfully dark track on isolation and being lost within oneself as much as the twisting labyrinth the lyrics embody in the song. It’s a long one at ten minutes which means we get gloriously huge progressions, gentle solos, asides, and one of the best uses of saxophone about three-fourths of the way through. Where the lyrics, drums, and much of the guitars are downtrodden at the prospect of being trapped eternally within the eponymous endless place, the sax offers a respite of light breaking through the cracks, something of a true glimpse of beauty that could also blind if you overindulge. The way the sax mingles with bold drum head strikes and a fluttering guitar melody is one of the most ethereal moments on the album without a doubt. The end uses big instrumentation as if the person in the song resorted to pounding on and kicking the walls of their prison in desperation before it all falls off to lead into the next track.

Elsewhere, Pallbearer are both softer and harder than the aforementioned three songs, really exhibiting a spectrum of doom, metal, and doom metal. There’s aspects of Mind Burns Alive that flirt with the melancholy of ‘9os grunge or alt rock, some others more tinged by shoegaze/post-rock affectations, though only slightly. You never forget that they are doom because they manifest it so well. I’ll never forget the first time I heard Foundations of Burden by the band and how “Ashes” moved me to tears simply because of how they executed such a lurching, touching, lullaby-esque ballad within the bulwarks of their heavier doom metal offerings on the album. This album has similar moments all around just waiting to blindside you while you read a particularly poignant line of lyrics or the way the band transitions from section to section in the most awe-inspiring ways.

Maybe it’s recency bias or the fact that I haven’t done a full re-deep dive on Pallbearer‘s discography in a while, but Mind Burns Alive feels like a key moment in the making for the Arkansas band. It’s deftly realized, has an alluring emotional core, and is instrumentally strong in ways that the doom tones highlight best. It’s also just approachable as hell – my pal Jake wagers this album could be their breakthrough to an even bigger audience and place them on a pedestal among our modern heavy music greats, and I can see it happening. Ultimately, the people will engage with music that makes them feel something; that’s what Pallbearer are best at, and that’s what makes Mind Burns Alive so cherished among their work.

David Rodriguez

David Rodriguez

"I came up and so could you, and fuck the boys in blue" - RMR

Leave a Reply