Pallbearer on the Appeal of Doom Metal and Being Unafraid of Classic Rock
When Little Rock's Pallbearer released its debut full-length, Sorrow and Extinction, last February, the band had little idea how special this particular slab of doom metal would become. But listeners and critics showed the group otherwise: they latched onto the album, anchored by Brett Campbell's expansive guitars and clear, plaintive voice and Joseph Rowland's contemplative bass, crowning Sorrow and Extinction one of the year's best.
What started with a three-song demo, quietly released in 2010 on Bandcamp and featuring a spot-on version of "Gloomy Sunday" (has there ever been a more perfect doom-band song?), quickly took the metal world by storm in 2012. Pallbearer also became noteworthy for its indie record label, Ontario, Canada's Profound Lore, whose stellar 2012 catalog earned it a reputation as one of the best-curated labels in metal -- or anywhere.
Pallbearer is kicking off 2013 very differently, plowing through North America on Enslaved's "Winter Rite" tour with Royal Thunder, another sleeper band that won metalheads' crusty old hearts in 2012. The tour comes to Slim's this Saturday, Feb. 9, after which Pallbearer will head to Europe for the first time to play a series of gigs before appearing at Roadburn, the Netherlands' mega indie music fest, in April. We recently spoke with Rowland about Pallbearer's newfound success, and what's in store for one of the biggest new names in doom.
2012 was an amazing year for you guys. Sorrow & Extinction topped many year-end lists, including being named Pitchfork's best metal album of the year. It was also part of their "best new music" lineup. How does that change things for the band?
It's kind of surreal. It's not something we envisioned, going into it. When we were writing and recording the album, we were only looking to make something we felt had lasting value to us, and we figured there'd be some others out there who would key into what we felt, but not on such a huge scale. It's been kind of surprising. I like that it seems to appeal to so many people in different walks of life. When we got the "best new music" tag, when the album was reviewed, that helped us get a booking agent. Without some of those things, we would be having a harder time getting ourselves out there.
2012 was also a major year for doom in general. Why do you think doom has become so prevalent, and so popular?
It makes sense culturally, because it seems like there's a lot of tumultuous times right now. Like it made sense in the '80s with all the thrash bands. There was such a fear of nuclear war, and that was a subject matter for a lot of bands. Times are still bad, and people gravitate towards that. For us, that wasn't really so much of the impetus to make the music as it was personal stuff.
How did Pallbearer begin?
Brett and I started the band. We had both been going through some difficult times and, in the middle of that, had been talking about working on some new music to take our minds off it. We had been pretty immersed in listening to a lot of classic doom, like St. Vitus and Candlemass. We became interested in working on something more in that direction and less freeform and psychedelic, like our [side] band, although eventually the two intermingled.
As an exercise in letting go of what you were going through, was making Sorrow & Extinction effective?
Absolutely. I still feel like there's a lot of catharsis in Pallbearer, for sure. There are a lot of people who associate heavy music and angst. But I echo to another place when I'm playing, another realm of consciousness. It's very cathartic. It doesn't take me back to a place that's dark, necessarily.
A lot of people focus on the album's expression of bleakness and sadness, which is typical of doom, but few talk about how beautiful and uplifting it is. Was that an intentional aspect of the sound?
It was intentional. We're really interested in melody. There's a lot you can do with melodies that a good bit of bands out there that play heavier music tend to leave out. The album is definitely supposed to encapsulate darkness and light. There's definitely some parts that are uplifting and kind of signify the struggle. It's not all a downer.
One criticism I've heard is that Pallbearer sounds like a throwback to bands like Black Sabbath. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I wouldn't necessarily take that as a criticism. We all love Black Sabbath, and people still listen to Black Sabbath now just as much as then. We definitely don't look at ourselves as a retro revival band at all. We'd rather be seen as timeless, rather than have the band be a time capsule of sorts. Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd and bands like that, they don't have a time-specific sound and they've stood the test of time. That's what we aspire to, more than anything.
If you don't want to be seen as a retro revival band, you might not like my next question: Invisible Oranges recently wrote about a trend within metal to revive classic rock, and cited bands like Royal Thunder, Witchcraft, and others. Are audiences craving those old sounds?
I hope so. I love classic rock. I love a lot of stuff a lot of people think is probably cheesy, like Journey and Asia. I love prog-rock too, like Yes and King Crimson. Those are all bands that are significant influences on us, at least in bits and pieces. I hope that people are seeing a new interest in that stuff, listening to the albums and not just what's on the classic rock stations.
Are you guys working on material for a next record? What does it sound like so far?
We've been slowly putting together material for the past year. We'll hopefully be going into the studio later this year, once we've narrowed down what's going to be on the album. We're continually writing and writing, and slowly paring it down to what will be the album.
Can you say anything about what it will sound like?
It's hard to say for sure, since I'm not positive what will be on it, but there's even more of an emphasis on melody, so far. Some of what we've done, whether it makes the album or not, has some of our darkest material, and some of our lightest material. Some of what I've been working on is considerably lighter and maybe a little more progressive.
Do you feel any pressure to match or exceed Sorrow & Extinction?
I try not to think about that, and that's not something I've talked about with the other guys. I would like to put it out of mind and not fret over it. One way or the other, there's always going to be naysayers. There's no point in losing sleep over whether it's as well received. We'll make the album that needs to be made, one way or the other.