3. Pallbearer, Heartless (Profound Lore)
I’m tempted to just come out and grandiosely declare Pallbearer the best American metal band of the 2010s. And five years ago I never thought I’d ever say that about this band. Contrary to the curmudgeons who grumble pathetically, “They peaked with their demo,” Pallbearer’s evolution over the course of three albums has been wonderful to witness. What started out as a unique take on doom metal has steadily developed into something completely unique, a hybrid of doom metal, classic 1970s heavy metal, and most crucially, progressive rock. In fact, the more the band indulges their prog side, the better they sound, and that’s on full display on the sprawling, gorgeous Heartless. Brett Campbell’s singing has gotten so much stronger and more confident, and he’s able to dominate tracks rather than allow his vocals to be buried in the mix. The melodies and phrasing he comes up with are unique as well, not so much focused on a particular hook but sounding as an extension of a melodic guitar solo. And as for those solos, led by Devin Holt, they achieve a stateliness that rivals the work of Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt, combining melody and expression, which beautifully offsets the forceful, doom-oriented rhythm guitar riffs. You hear that confidence on tracks like “Dancing in Madness” and “I Saw the End”, as the foursome carry themselves authoritatively, fully knowledgeable that few in the metal genre can do what they’re doing. From the hugely improved vocal melodies to the expressive solos and ribcage-rattling riffs, Pallbearer walk the line between sheer power and fragile beauty better than anyone in the genre right now.