Pallbearer's Prog-Doom Metal Comes from Strange Places (Like Kansas)

Pallbearer loves Kansas. What's next -- does Taylor Swift like Queensrÿche?
Pallbearer loves Kansas. What's next -- does Taylor Swift like Queensrÿche?
Diana Lee Zadlo

Being the torchbearer of the modern American doom metal movement can be a tough job, especially when you list Kansas as one of your favorite bands. But it makes sense, according to Pallbearer bass player and vocalist Joseph D. Rowland, who says the band's progressive tendencies are just as important as its metal roots.

"I think we are just as much a prog-rock band as we are doom metal," says Rowland from the band's recently repaired van as he drives it from Lexington, Kentucky, to the band's home base in Little Rock, Arkansas. "We're huge fans of King Crimson, Yes, Kansas . . . bands that pushed the envelope. We like telling a story through the music as well as the lyrics."

See also: 15 Best Guitarists in the Phoenix Metal Scene Right Now

After blowing minds all over the place with their 2012 debut, Sorrow and Extinction, Pallbearer put its songwriting into overdrive. On its sophomore record, Foundations of Burden, the band got even more comfortable with drawn-out epics (most of the six tunes clock in around 10 minutes) but also eased up on gloomy lyrics and heavy guitars. Becoming complacent isn't in the cards for Pallbearer, Rowland says.

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"There are definitely doom bands out there playing more simplistic, heavy Sabbath riffs," Rowland says. "We love Sabbath, but there's more to it than playing the riff from 'Cornucopia.' I've moved away from a lot of the heavy music scene because most of it doesn't inspire me."

And though he admits there is something fun about just jamming, Rowland says being in a band, to him, is about more than simply finding a place you fit and sticking to what comes easiest.

"The first record is kind of plodding," he says. "We wanted to challenge ourselves and not repeat what we already did. We just wanted to kind of expand our palette of dynamics and get the songwriting going in a different direction. I would personally never feel comfortable not progressing. I don't want to stay in one spot as a person or a musician. We want to continue to push forward."

What that means for Pallbearer is making good choices in the writing process, even if it means deviating from the path others think you belong on. One of the standouts on Foundations of Burden is "Ashes," perhaps the most atypical song the band has ever written. Clocking in at just over three minutes, the tune is easily the most sparse and traditionally beautiful on the record. Rowland says he wrote the song as he thought it should be written -- that's all that really matters.

"Theoretically, it could have gone on and on," he says. "I just didn't feel like it needed to be any longer. We wrote what manifested from our hearts."

That desire and ability to tell a story through music is probably what most sets Pallbearer apart from any other band around today. Whether it's heavy and down-tuned or haunting and quiet, Pallbearer's music conveys more than just sounds and words.

"A lot of it stems from different experiences we've had," says Rowland of the band's ability to paint a vivid picture in the listener's mind. "Rocking out per se, that wouldn't feel as natural. I definitely enjoy simple, catchy rock 'n' roll, but on the whole, the storytelling aspect, that's just what we do most naturally."

Pallbearer is scheduled to perform Thursday, December 4, at Crescent Ballroom.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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