Back in 2012 newcomers Pallbearer caused an immediate stir with their debut album Sorrow and Extinction. In a doom metal scene where the most popular sounds were embracing the extreme versions of the genre, or buried in layers of stoner fuzz, Sorrow and Extinction stood out as clean, melodic, epic and meticulously layered.
The hype around Pallbearer was immediate, and only grew with the release of their sophomore Foundations of Burden and this years’ Heartless, to the point that the Arkansas natives are now one of the biggest names in doom. This being their first ever New Zealand show, there was a palpable buzz of excitement as Whammy Bar slowly filled to its rafters.
Unfortunately I missed Auckland locals Reaving, however I was happy to catch second openers Arc of Ascent, who really got the crowd going with their superb set of stoner doom. There’s one thing that immediately jumps out when witnessing this band: riffs, riffs upon riffs. Great big stomping, distorted, psych-flavored riffs. It’s a simple, visceral joy, and it gets the crowd happily headbanging. There are subtleties to notice as well- notably a nice little call-and-response section between the vocalist and the lead guitar. Speaking of vocalist Craig Williamson, his husky chants added a lot to the hazy stoner atmosphere.
The main event kicked off to a packed and exuberant room, the crowd applauding loudly as Pallbearer took the stage. I had high expectations going in, and Pallbearer met and exceeded them. Few live experiences truly deserve the label “epic.” This was one. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Pallbearer is that they do what they do without ever being cheesy or self indulgent. They manage to be ambitious without being pretentious. Dramatic without being pompous. Melancholic without beng saccharine. This was a set of mostly ten-minute songs without a wasted note or second. So how to they do it?
Great songwriting is one obvious answer, and one that was very apparent watching these songs live. Enormous songs such as Worlds Apart or The Ghost I Used to Be are dynamic and cohesive, shifting between movements so smoothly you hardly notice how well the musicians are handling the chord progressions and transitions.
Talented musicianship, then, has to be our second answer. Again, this band functions so well as a whole I had to make sure to deliberately pay attention to each member at some point. The fluid basslines were a subtle highlight, rarely called to attention but really impressive. The soaring guitar solos, of course, were a sweet, sweet, delight to the ears.
But something you don’t get on a studio album was also here last night, and that’s the raw passion and physicality of Pallbearer’s performance. They threw their bodies about over their guitars, headbanged with the rest of us at heavy riffs, closed their eyes and leaned into the mic when singing. They were there, feeling the music with us, and that conviction lent the music even more emotion and power.
The crowd responded to that intimacy with the highest mark of respect a Kiwi metal crowd can give: taking the piss. “Play something fast!” called one smart arse, as Brett Campbell talked up the virtues of old-school doom metal, no less. And when Campbell mentioned it was the first time they were playing New Zealand, and what an honour it was, there was warm applause and a strident call of “about fucking time!” Indeed, Pallbearer, about fucking time. Come back soon.
Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Ivan Karczewski: