Pallbearer – “Heartless”

Here is my review of Pallbearer’s recently released third album of epic progressive doom metal. It’s mostly about Jean-Claude Van Damme (not the album, just the review).

Like Pallbearer’s earlier releases, Heartless is very emotional music. You hear it, and you feel. But — and three albums in, I’m noticing this is a pattern — it makes you feel . . . what exactly? It makes your heart jump for . . . it makes your fist pump at . . . it makes your feet thump to . . . something.  It certainly is . . . well . . . epic.

But epic what? It has to be epically yearning or epically sad or epically terrifying or whatever . . . it can’t be just epic . . . can it? You know, we now have three full length recordings from Pallbearer, and I’m not so sure any more. If epic can be an emotion unto itself, if it is possible for epic to race through your veins, if epic can make your chest swell, if you can gaze at someone with eyes full of epic, well then, I guess Heartless is pretty much what that would sound like.

In an effort to discover the truth, I did what serious researchers have been doing to rigorously interrogate questions as difficult as this for generation after generation, and I googled “epic emotion.”

So, it turns out that when you google “epic emotion,” what you get is mostly this:


You’d probably sleep better assuming that video is the once-off work of a lone madperson who will never surface in the public consciousness, but before you snuggle up without the Benadryl, you should probably see how many followers their Facebook page has.

Please pay attention — that was not even Jean-Claude Van Damme’s  official Facebook page. I’m pretty sure that’s this one, which is still significantly more popular, though potentially no less confusing.

It shouldn’t surprise me that Jean-Claude Van Damme has more likes than Metal Reality. The internet is weird like that. I guess it doesn’t surprise me either that he has 379 times more likes than Pallearer. But Pallbearer is kind of a big deal. How the hell did a gang of anonymous randos who made a questionably scored YouTube mashup of unrelated imagery from emotionally dead movies and then called it “Epic Emotion” (and then did it again at least nine more times, apparently) beat Pallbearer in the eyes of social media?

It would help to know exactly how metal Jean-Claude Van Damme is. Hm. Jean-Claude Van Damme was a time cop. That’s kind of metal, I guess . . .

. . . but clearly not as metal as Heartless. There must be something else going on here.

Oh, yeah. Did you know that Jean-Claude Van Damme was almost the motherfucking Predator?


I think the most metal part of that whole thing might be the line “I hate this head.” And no, Jean-Claude Van Damme did not become the motherfucking Predator in the end, but with Jean-Claude Van Damme out of the way, the path was cleared for the tragically brief but unambiguously metal career of Kevin Peter Hall. Thanks to Kevin Peter Hall, we all get to live in a reality where Harry from Harry and the Hendersons was the exact same guy as the motherfucking Predator.

So if Jean-Claude Van Damme was one step away from that, that pretty much gets us here:

Split that two ways with stopping time crime, and you arrive at the objectively fair metal detector rating for Pallbearer’s Heartless.

Which is nice and everything, but, though the connection between Heartless and Jean Claude Van Damme has been clearly established at this point, the epistemological paradox of what it means to feel epic remains unresolved.

That last screen shot, incidentally, is from some of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s earlier work — his juvenalia, you might say — wherein he is credited for the role of Very Gay Karate Man. That is something I know about because I read this thing which Grady Hendrix wrote for Slate on the occasion of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s 47th birthday, and which, I would maintain, is still one of the greatest blog posts in the unambiguously brief and tragically metal history of blogs. It’s just such a shame that the clip isn’t on YouTube. Actually, never mind. It’s totally on YouTube:


By the way, I know this review is getting a little long in the tooth, so let me point out a couple of things about that clip before you write it off as patently homophobic. While at first glance, it may appear to pander to the stereotype of LGBTQ humans as creepily propositional towards their straight brethren, please take note that Supposedly Straight Guy in Tux totally has his arm over the back of Very Gay Karate Man’s seat the whole time that he’s supposedly not into Very Gay Karate Man’s propositions. Furthermore, at the end of it, Very Gay Karate Man could totally beat the everliving shit out of Supposedly Straight Guy in Tux, but he doesn’t have to, because karate. If there’s any stereotype this clip panders to, it’s the unfortunately far more realistic one of straight humans as irrationally violent. (I really didn’t think I was going to wind up trying so hard to defend it, but for some reason, this piece of film seems far more entertaining to me than, say, Time Cop.)

But I digress. We were supposed to be talking about Grady Hendrix. In the above referenced article, he deconstructs the formation of emotion in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s theatrical technique as follows:

Jean-Claude has three expressions: worried, charming, and doing a split. Of the three, doing a split is the most convincing. Getting crucified in Cyborg? Worried. Disposing of a bomb that could blow up a sacred Muslim shrine and start a jihad in The Order? Really worried. Meeting a spunky lady reporter in any number of movies? Charming. Confronting the hitmen who killed his wife? Do a split.

Well, you learn something new every day, don’t you? Sometimes it’s just a thing you didn’t know was a thing, like yarnbombing. Sometimes it’s a flavor that you didn’t know you could taste and which the government probably made up, like umami. And sometimes it’s something you didn’t know you could feel, like epic. But what does that sound like? It sounds like Heartless. And what does that mean? It means that Heartless is the sound of doing a split between two big-ass rigs rolling backwards though through a twilit desert like you don’t even give a fuck:


Also, in case you were wondering, Heartless is a really good album, and does not sound like Enya. Besides some songs which are respectably heavy, it also has a bunch of pretty, ballady stuff like 12 minute closer “A Plea for Understanding” that isn’t exactly metal, but that number will probably just make you want to have a doom-themed destination wedding at the edge of an erupting volcano so you can play it for your first dance.  Go feel epic by listening to Heartless on Bandcamp.




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