Are we all doomed out yet? Over the last seven or so years, doom metal has risen from its moldy grave like a fiend from a ‘70s Hammer Horror film. Consequentially, this trendy reincarnation has spawned an army of redundant Black Sabbath, Candlemass, Electric Wizard and Pentagram clones as well as summoning the original corpses to return to the fray. It’s challenging to get noticed in such a saturated swamp yet Arkansas’ own Pallbearer landed a record deal with one of the most innovative and high quality metal labels – Profound Lore – for their first album in 2012. Only five years later, one of the biggest metal labels – Nuclear Blast – released their third album in Europe. This is an astonishing achievement for any metal band, let alone a doom act. Tonight Pallbearer hit Toronto again with new album ‘Heartless’ under their doom-laden belts.
About a month has passed since avant-gardians Kayo Dot bemused Toronto with Today is the Day so their fanatics are presumably ecstatic that they are back so soon. Conceived in 2003 from the ashes of the equally confusing cult collective Maudlin of the Well, these genre chameleons have no two albums that share any musical style or direction. Unlike last month’s show, ‘Gemini Becoming the Tripod’ commences proceedings, a rather erratic and bipolar selection that sees frontman Toby Diver employing crazed shouts before the instrumentation plunges into wild freneticism. Sporting jet black shades, the trio unleash their utterly unpredictable compositions to the crowd. Combining the likes of prog, jazz, ambient, goth rock, metal, electronic, noise rock and more is no easy nor accessible feat.
For those in attendance who prefer their music less baffling, the inclusion of ‘Magnetism’ from last year’s ‘Plastic House on Base of Sky’ should be a relief. Straying closer to a one-of-a-kind medley between goth rock, synthpop and progressive rock, the track is ethereal like a dream or a hazy summertime memory. Driver manages guitar, laptop and various effects pedals on the floor with a rare mastery. Ok, so maybe not what Pallbearer fans can be expected to devour but something so alien that musicians should share some appreciation for the technical tapestry the three-piece weave. The crowd directly in front of the band swells as the sumptuous songs snake through the venue. ‘The Assassination of Adam’ isn’t a million miles away from contemporary prog rockers Porcupine Tree’s more unhinged efforts to begin with before it completely unravels in a maelstrom of madness. ‘The Mortality of Doves’ staple is more tender and ends Kayo Dot’s set in a less mind-fucking but still stimulating fashion.
Arkansas doom metal mongers Pallbearer are a very different beast to their support, choosing to follow a more traditional musical route. It’s curious to know how this pairing came together for the tour but the variation is certainly appreciated. This year, the quarter released their third offering of mountainous metal ‘Heartless’ and they open the set with the red raw ‘Thorns’. A gravelly rhythm guitar and spirited drumming bolster contrasting meandering guitar melodies ripe with emotion. Lee’s Palace is very busy now and sizeable portions of the punters headbang along to the bone-crunching rhythms. This dramatic opener segues into ‘The Ghost I Used to Be’ from sophomore full-length ‘Foundations of Burden’, introducing melancholic introspection to the night. Clocking in over ten minutes, the song sketches stoner rock soundscapes with Ozzy Osbourne-style vocals. Nothing here is unusual but it hits hard in the live environment.
The band dips into the ‘Fear & Fury’ EP with the title track, featuring picturesque and occasionally intricate melodies laid over coarse guitar and bass. The prolonged ‘Dancing in Madness’ and ‘A Plea for Understanding’ round out all prime cuts aired from ‘Heartless’ tonight. Eager to span all of their discography, blasts from the past ‘Devoid of Redemption’ and closing song of the night ‘Foreigner’ are a reminder of how quickly the band has risen to fame following the release of their debut ‘Sorrow and Extinction’ from 2012. The members themselves are enthused and enjoying paying homage to the doom genre. The only true criticism that could be levelled at Pallbearer is a deficiency in stylistic variation, even more pronounced following Kayo Dot. But as referenced earlier in this review, in concert, the music is heavy-hitting, emotive and well-executed. The show ends with a volley of rapturous applause but sadly no encore.
Photo credit: Adam Wills