Bleak, beautiful and crushingly heavy. Little Rock, Arkansas' Pallbearer have built a reputation over the 8 years following the release of their 2010 demo for stirringly heavy music, the result of a careful balance in songwriting ability and sheer musicianship. Their material shoves the listener into a frightful deluge of low-end distortion, offering only the faintest glimmers of light through the deployment of plaintive, gripping vocal and lead melody. This is unmistakably contemporary (not trend-chasing, not nostalgia-wallowing, but utterly of this time and moment) heavy metal, that can soar to tremendous heights on record and in the right live environment, but can be vulnerable to falling flat if any one of the band, audience, or venue is lacking on the day. Tonight's change of venue from the majestic Islington Assembly rooms to the dark, sweaty intimacy of Camden’s Underworld makes for a less grand atmosphere, but the band are equal to the task wherever they play.
Opening tonight are Milton Keynes' Tuskar, a two-piece who, appropriate to the setting, conjure up a disproportionate amount of noise from a drum kit and a single telecaster. Simple, raw, low guitar riffs are propelled along by primal and vicious percussion and the audience's appetites are whetted. Definitely one to watch in future.
Pallbearer are all business tonight, launching straight in with second album Foundations of Burden highlight 'Watcher In The Dark' and treating the crowd to a fair distribution of material across all three full length albums with a new song, 'Dropout' front-loading the set. The initial trio of songs - 'Watcher...', 'Dropout' and 'Thorns' are strong enough contributions, but the set doesn't really seem to get going until 'Dancing In Madness'. This is surprising as the latter presented as one of the weaker tracks on 2017's Heartless, lacking some of the immediate appeal of that album's standouts such as the title track and 'Lie of Survival', but experiencing the song unfolding in a live environment really adds a great deal of power, the opening jam setting the audience on something of a sonic journey with the final vocal line as a kind of finale.
From here on the set’s second half is dominated by 'expansive' sounding numbers. 'Foreigner' absolutely soars. This, 'Worlds Apart' and 'Given To The Grave' are masterclasses in power through sparse arrangement. The latter song in particular is a microcosm of Pallbearer's compositional prowess. Everything about this song, its structure, pacing and atmosphere is deliberate, controlled, crafted. And yet the result is something that sounds loose and 'freeform' enough to carry the live crowd along with it. The audience are rapt throughout.
Pallbearer close with about the closest thing they have to an 'anthem', 'Devoid of Redemption' and the audience disperses. An emotionally intense Monday evening and one I am glad of: New heaviness in the form of Tuskar and Pallbearer showing they can deliver the goods again during festival season, hopefully on the cusp of something bigger. It's all they, and we, deserve.