Review: PallbearerMind Burns Alive

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Originally lumped in with other emerging doom bands at the time of their breakout record Sorrow And Extinction—2012 being a prominent year for the genre with great releases from Hell, Bell Witch, Ahab, Swallow The Sun, etc—Pallbearer differentiated themselves with a warmer, deliberately older sound. The production and slight vocal nasality brought obvious Black Sabbath comparisons but to me Pallbearer’s compositional sensibilities feel closer to a progressive and psychedelic rock tradition. There’s always been as much Camel in their records as there is Warning.

Mind Burns Alive follows their 2020 record Forgotten Days, an album that was tightly written and emotionally potent but, for me, hampered slightly by misguided production from the usually great Randall Dunn that smudged and disguised the impact of tracks like a layer of Vaseline. The self-produced Mind Burns Alive is recorded in a way that complements Pallbearer’s warmer, considered style a lot more.

Beginning the record with a big unexpected highlight is “Daybreak”, a track that should sound parochial and goofy with its big, expressive vocals and epic aspirations but is executed so slickly, and its central riff is so fucking tight, that the better part of your judgement sort of fades away. Pallbearer are operating in a genre (and a subculture, to be honest) that’s incredibly cynical, so a song like “Daybreak” being uncompromisingly theatrical and as emotionally open as it is makes it an unexpected highlight in Pallbearer’s entire discography.

In direct contrast, the album’s lead single “Where The Light Fades” is incredibly weak and lacks impact. A track that, like a lot of bands leaning towards the reified, capital-p Progressive genre ideal, sees Pallbearer just end up writing a track that apes the trappings of the past—whatever that can mean for guitar music in 2024—so we hear unremarkable acoustic counterpoint and extremely unconvincing, diluted synth.

How the synthwork on “Where The Light Fades” deliberately attempts to mimic the incidentally artificial sound of pioneering progressive rock groups is something a lot of other bands have done: an “inauthentic”, fake approximation of something that was already “fake”. A copy of a copy, rhizomes all the way down. It’s the sort of thing that’s present throughout a lot of retro-revivalists of late-’60s/’70s production in the past decade or so, bands sketching a broad, estimated image of the past. It’s not to my taste but it’s notable in how it’s remained so persistent within genres like doom and prog.

The title track “Mind Burns Alive” is much more dynamic, with a heavy intro that gives way to a wide-open, sparser section. It’s a track that shines a light on Pallbearer’s best qualities; a band that has always excelled in their quieter moments. Guitarist Brett Campbell states:

I’m of the belief that true heaviness comes from emotional weight, and sometimes sheer bludgeoning isn’t the right approach to getting a feeling across.

“Mind Burns Alive” is probably the purest distillation of this line of thinking on the album: a track using pensive, quiet moments to temper expectations for the song’s explosion back to life. Another highlight and one of the best moments on the record.

“Signals” is a great track that continues in this vein, with a more pronounced, chunky low-end. The warmer sound, mellow harmonic sensibilities and hazy, thick production give it a shoegaze quality without feeling forced or lethargic. “Endless Place”, though still fairly solid in its own right, feels like it’s tapping dry the approach of the prior two tracks in my opinion, while not really doing much to justify its length except some nice lead guitar work from the 4-minute mark.

“With Disease” ends the album with aplomb in what is probably the most interestingly structured track on the record. A track that that sounds like a funereal procession given the rhythm section of a waltz, filled with start-stop riffing acting as a backbone to slick, soaring lead-guitar work.

It’s relevant to note that the album is defined by bassist Joseph D. Rowland as:

An exploration of fate; when you are deceived by your own instincts and internal voice.

In a way, the reductive, less-inspired moments of Mind Burns Alive end up reinforcing this idea of playing a set role; of fate. While I think Pallbearer, like a lot of other bands operating in the same sphere, have a narrower scope from working within the limitations of genre rigidity, for Mind Burns Alive it works in its favor a lot of the time. For an album dealing so often in isolation, it injects the record with a sense of melancholia, evoking a sort of predestined, orchestrated sadness. While I don’t think Mind Burns Alive is Pallbearer’s best record, I think it’s their most interesting in a decade.

3.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Mind Burns Alive releases May 17 on Nuclear Blast Records. You can preorder on Bandcamp here!

3.5/5

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