For Fans Of: Opeth / Baroness / Black Sabbath
Pallbearer are back with new album, Forgotten Days. Carefully plotted throughout 2019, the quartet’s fourth long-player eschews the compositional maximalism that hoisted predecessor Heartless aloft for the heaviest groove and the most visceral hooks to come out of the Arkansans to date. Spread across eight towering tracks, Forgotten Days sees Pallbearer embracing their roots again, but this time with a doom-infused metallic spark that’s infectious and transcendent. Indeed, this album is everything a Pallbearer fan could love. It is a raw and riveting evolution, filled with emotion and the unique downcast exuberance that has defined the band’s storied career.
Pallbearer have found the perfect musical economy on Forgotten Days. The quartet—comprised of Brett Campbell (vocals/guitars), Devin Holt (guitars), Joseph D. Rowland (bass/vocals), and Mark Lierly (drums)—have distilled the last decade of music and touring know-how into songs that have an undeniable urgency. Songs like “Riverbed,” “Stasis,” and “Vengeance & Ruination” feature Campbell’s best vocal lines to date. Even after they’re long over, Campbell’s heartfelt cantations leave an indelible imprint. Other songs, like “Silver Wings,” “The Quicksand of Existing,” and Forgotten Days’ stunning bookend “Caledonia,” demonstrate Pallbearer’s considerable restraint, where riffs sing out with character and feeling instead of being folded into impenetrable complex shapes. Indeed, the album’s opening title track is crushing old-school heavy metal perfection.
“I wanted to capture the immediacy and what the songs feel like when they’re performed live,” says Campbell. “We didn’t want to mess too much with the initial spark. We didn’t want to color over our inspirations too much. Also, variety was important this time around, too. I look back on a lot of records from the ’70s. They had the hits, but they also had the epics, the weird songs—experimentation! Look at Rush in the late ’70s. They had pop songs. Great, classic songs next to the grand epics. That made the albums interesting and adventurous.”
“Forgotten Days is us exploring what is natural to us,” says Rowland. “The songs tell me where I need to go when I write. We wanted to focus on songs that were visceral and enjoyable to play live—that our audiences would enjoy experiencing. We’re also getting back to more of the groovier and heavier elements of Pallbearer. Heartless is fairly uptempo and technical. This one is a little more open, but it hammers you.”
Thematically, Campbell and Rowland wanted to capture (and emphasize) the concept of family on Forgotten Days. This isn’t about reunions, halcyon celebrations, or the glow of coming home after a long spell away. Instead, songs like “Riverbed,” “Silver Wings,” and “Rite of Passage” tackle far more onerous topics. They deal with loss—physical and intangible—the weight of personal choices, and intense reflection. Heavier than a mountain of regret, the lyrics express where writers Campbell and Rowland are at on Forgotten Days.
“This record has a lot of thematic ties to our first record,” Rowland says. “When we were writing Sorrow and Extinction, my mother was terminally ill. She passed as we were writing the demos; It’s been 10 years since she passed. It’s taken me all this time to take a really good look at myself. What I mean by that is what has happened in my life is the result of making that record, Sorrow and Extinction. I wouldn’t be here today had I not gone through that experience. All this time, I’ve felt that I’ve been pushing away the reflection of what kind of person that made me—deep down—keeping it at arm’s length. While we were writing Forgotten Days, I knew, ‘Now is the time to sit down and begin to understand who I have become.’ So, that’s what [my songs] are about. They’re about processing how time has made me what I am today as well as a dialogue with my mother as if I was still able to speak face to face with her. That’s a huge part of what this record is about, even as the memories drift away. I haven’t dealt with my issues in the healthiest of ways. Over the years, those memories aren’t as distinct as I’d like. So, there’s an element of regret about that, too.”
“Joe and I have always written lyrics separately,” says Campbell. “But we always end up with lyrics that are connected by threads. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because we’ve been in close proximity for a long while. Between Heartless and Forgotten Days, we were home for an extended period of time. I think we finally had time to reflect. Memory is a big aspect of the new record. The passage of time. How things change as perspective changes. Was the past truly the way that you remember it at all? My mom’s mom has been withering away with Alzheimer’s. My mom goes to see her, and seeing her deal with Alzheimer’s, watching her mother slip away piece by piece is hard. That was the inspiration for the song ‘Forgotten Days.’ Once you lose your memory, what are you? That’s terrifying.”
Pallbearer linked up with producer Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth, Johan Johannson) on Forgotten Days. They first met Dunn when the American producer/audio engineer agreed to do live sound. As their professional and personal relationship developed, it only made sense for Pallbearer and Dunn to collaborate on Forgotten Days. So, they packed up and headed to Sonic Ranch Studios in West Texas. By day, heavy magic was captured. Between takes, nerd-out sessions over the studio’s vintage Neve console and impressive art collection were had, as were the endless sonic possibilities of Eventide H3000 harmonizers, over-spec’d Verellen amplifiers, and Campbell’s custom nine-string guitar. At night, Pallbearer, Dunn, engineer Justin Morris, and crew would drink beers and listen to the coyotes howl as a massive campfire burned up to the stars.
As with Heartless, Pallbearer’s new album features the incredible cover art talents of Michael Lierly, brother of drummer Mark Lierly. To get the other Lierly started, Campbell and Rowland supplied the themes of Forgotten Days. They plied family, loss, reflection, memory, and regret, and left the painter to come up with something that evoked all of their essential themes and yet had the look/feel of a Pallbearer cover. From there, Lierly produced powerful front, back, and inside (gatefold) images that were roughly hewn yet heartbreaking in their expressive heft. The striking cover is the ideal foil to Pallbearer’s thick musical and lyrical melancholia.
“Michael’s incredibly talented,” Campbell says. “His art has a very emotional feel to it. It’s extremely vivid. His expressions and the body language he portrays are surreal yet evocative. They’re almost dream-like yet tangible. That’s a nice reflection of what we’re trying to go for musically.”
Pallbearer formed in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2008. A heavy rock band from the South isn’t that unlikely, but one that is responsible for, in part, rekindling America’s passion for heavy rock/doom metal is all but unbelievable. From Sorrow and Extinction (2012) and Foundations of Burden (2014) to Heartless (2017), Pallbearer ignited in generations new and grizzled, not just a renewed interest in originators such as Black Sabbath and Candlemass but also infatuation over echelons of lesser-knowns. Even the press were taken aback, with the Arkansans landing prominent coverage in The New York Times, SPIN, NPR, Rolling Stone, and Decibel.
Today, Pallbearer defies categorization while appealing to the tenets of the very genre that now considers the group’s oeuvre as crucial and influential. Forgotten Days is proof of that. One listen to “Riverbed,” “Caledonia,” “Stasis,” and the album’s 12-minute epic, “Silver Wings,” and they solidify their place in music as one of the most creative and talented rock bands in the modern pantheon. They’ve made their mark on metal, and with Forgotten Days Pallbearer are destined for bigger things.
Pallbearer are: Brett Campbell (vocals/guitar), Devin Holt (guitar), Joseph D. Rowland (bass/vocals), and Mark Lierly (drums).