The sun is still beating down on the hottest day of the year as we descend into the very pits of hell (note to nice Thekla people: artistic license) for an evening of early curfew doom.
Oddly named Texans Pinkish Black open up the proceedings. The internet reveals that they were a trio until the suicide of their bassist, whereupon they decided to carry on as a duo. Nothing particularly odd about that, as the duo format is becoming increasingly modish. But it’s not often you see a drum’n’synth twosome. Anyone who’s ever wondered what doom metal would sound like if you removed the guitars and bass will find the answer right here. Daron Beck serves up portentous chords and simple, John Carpenter-style keyboard figures topped with droning vocals, while Jon Teague contributes a gargantuan beat and additional synth. It’s eerily hypnotic stuff, redolent of what very early, pre-sequencer Krautrock might have sounded like if those German pioneers had gorged on their near contemporaries Black Sabbath instead of Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Arkansas has been in the news lately for the governor’s grotesque plan to execute seven death row prisoners in 11 days before the supply of lethal injection drug midazolam expires at the end of the month, which makes it grimly appropriate that the state’s most promising musical export should be named Pallbearer. “Play very slowly!” demands a heckler as they arrive on stage. (Actually, Pallbearer seem to attract some enjoyably droll hecklers. When an over-excited Welsh woman shouts “I love you!” a chap adds, more soberly, “As do I”.) As if in defiance of that entreaty to proceed at a funereal pace, the quartet kick off with the relatively fast Thorns from their Nuclear Blast debut, Heartless.
The knives seem to be out for Pallbearer in some quarters for having the audacity to crawl out of the cult underground after the best part of a decade, but NB have simply recognised the enormous potential appeal of the band’s adventurous, proggy spin on doom metal, its roots extending deep into the guitar-driven classic rock of Crazy Horse and even the Allmans. Those huge monolithic powerchords that define the genre are still present and correct, but there’s an almost Floydian grandeur to Pallbearer’s music that signals a restless desire to think outside the, er, coffin with their epic compositions. But it’s the melodic sensibility that really defines them. No matter how crushingly heavy the music becomes, melody is never sacrificed to sheer bludgeon, this being underlined by Brett Campbell’s suitably mournful, non-growly vocals. They even break out the synth for the intro to the suitably trippy Dancing in Madness.
Old-school fans are not forgotten with such audience favourites as Worlds Apart and The Ghost I Used to Be, a rare outing for the title track from their Fear and Fury EP, and a concluding, suitably gargantuan version of all twelve-and-a-half minutes of Foreigner from the band’s Sorrow and Extinction debut. On this showing, there’s no reason why they can’t follow trajectory of the likes of Anathema and Opeth in finding crossover success on their own terms.