Pallbearer released its hotly anticipated second full-length, Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore), four months ago, so anybody who cares has already decided whether this Arkansas doom-metal four-piece has lived up to the astonishing precedent set by its debut album, 2012’s Sorrow and Extinction. The new record may not wind up on quite so many year-end lists—it’s tough to blow people away the same way twice—but Pallbearer still sounds like Pallbearer. Stratospheric melodies snake through labyrinths of slow-motion subterranean gnashing, and Brett Campbell’s clear, sorrowful voice floats atop the miles-deep riffs like an eagle riding a column of rising air through the teeth of a mountain range. Producer Billy Anderson (Neurosis, Sleep, the Melvins) smooths down the fur on the Pleistocene beast that is Pallbearer’s sound—the drop-tuned guitars no longer slip so audibly out of key by the end of an 11-minute track, and the vocals glow with overdubbed harmonies. These tweaks, by eliding some of the physicality in this sort of music making, sharpen the serene, almost magisterial detachment of Pallbearer’s crushingly bleak and beautiful songs. Maybe there’s no consciousness that can mourn the ancient Appalachian peaks sheared off by mining companies, the coasts poisoned by oil spills and farm runoff, or the unimaginable future losses from global climate change, since as humans we’re all compromised by our own guilt—but this desolate, stately music implicitly asks us to assume such an exalted point of view. And onstage it acquires an entirely new sort of gravitas—the kind that comes from a bass tone the size of a gas giant. As I wrote after the band’s Beat Kitchen show in 2012, seeing Pallbearer live is like being very slowly and gently hit by an avalanche. —Philip Montoro $15
It doesn’t count as a cover band if you’ve got three members of the original band in your lineup, does it? That was the existential debate that went on when the Skull formed shortly after an intended one-off reunion show in 2012 by great Chicago doom pioneers Trouble. At first the band specialized in re-creating Trouble’s sound (very adeptly), while Trouble itself continued with a rival lineup. Awkward, sure, but not insurmountably so—plus, the Trouble legacy, desperately underappreciated at the time, is big enough for a lot of people to play around with. Fortunately, the Skull has crept out from under that giant shadow by releasing its debut, For Those Which Are Asleep (Tee Pee), this past fall and emerging as a great doom powerhouse in its own right. It’s a rich and meaty album of old-school acidic retro doom, full of powerful builds and mesmerizing dynamic range; former Pentagram guitarist Matt Goldsborough brings a bit of that influence. Bassist Ron Holzner tells me that for this show we can expect a blend of old and new, including a tribute to Trouble’s debut album Psalm 9 on its 30th anniversary. —Monica Kendrick $15, $10 in advance
On her forthcoming album True Romance (due in February from Established 1980 Ltd./BMG), British singer Estelle continues to cover all the bases, indulging in a dizzying variety of styles that undercuts the force of a voice that still works best within smoldering R&B. The recent single “Conqueror” is a schlocky power ballad that gets by on the strength of her vocals, which neither falter at full power nor trip over the track’s sentimental melody. Elsewhere on the album Estelle wails over an old-fashioned house beat on “Something Good,” and she gets over-the-top raunchy on “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)”—the “her” refers to her vagina, and she wants it beaten up. On the slow and slinky “The Same” she effectively modulates the volume and intensity of her singing. She also breezes through a trite reggae groove on “She Will Love” and pulls off old-school 70s soul moves on “Silly Girls.” The album juggles indulgence, heartbreak, indignation, and empathy, each of which pairs with a stylistic template. Estelle generally pulls it off, but the album is so all over the place one can’t get much of a sense who the singer really is these days. —Peter Margasak $25-$300
Back in September I caught this northwest-Indiana three-piece open for high-volume shoegaze revivalists Whirr, and the match was perfect. Cloakroom goes for a lush, massively heavy take on pretty indie rock, often sharing similarities with Champaign space-rock favorite Hum. On this year’s Lossed Over EP and last year’s Infinity full-length (both out on Run for Cover Records), the band sounds a little different than it did onstage—pensive, confessional emo is at the forefront, with deliberately paced rhythms, heartstring-tugging vocal melodies, and carefully strummed Fenders making up the main arsenal. But the heaviness Cloakroom uses live isn’t totally absent in the studio: at their best, the records sound like a David Bazan project that occasionally cuts loose and explodes into drone metal. Both personalities are great and will suck you right in, whether you’re in the mood for skull-crushing guitar tones or forlorn introspection. —Luca Cimarusti $20, $17 in advance
Chicago songwriter-for-hire network Downwrite has blossomed since Bob Nanna (Braid) and Mark Rose (Spitalfield) launched the site in February 2013. The bulk of the musicians available to write and record songs for clients come from the realms of punk, emo, and pop-punk, and the options within those worlds have varied and diversified as Downwrite has grown. You can hire Chris Conley of Saves the Day, Susie Ulrey of overlooked second-wave emo act Pohgoh, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya of genre-shattering underground bands aplenty, and Jon Walker, who used to play in pop-emo outfit Panic! at the Disco. Walker is on the stacked bill for this holiday show, which includes founders Rose and Nanna, the latter having just released the City on Film’s La Vella, a great solo album made of songs he created through Downwrite. Two of the performers on the bill I’m looking most forward to aren’t with Downwrite (at least not yet): Tim Kasher of Cursive and the Good Life (which plays Abbey Pub on New Year’s Eve), and Mike Kinsella, who recently released a warm, easygoing covers album under his Owen moniker. Dudes, if any of you want a Hanukkah song to cover get at me. —Leor Galil Participating players include Matt Pryor, William Beckett, Mike Kinsella, Tim Kasher, Mark Rose, Bob Nanna, Jon Walker, Bob Morris, Daniel Wade, and Daniel Castady.