Tombs Fuse Black & Post Metal To Effective Results On New Album Savage Gold
Something about Tombs‘ icy style has previously made it challenging for me to get into, but I think I’m done keeping this band at arm’s length. Admittedly I was quite impressed when I caught the group for the first time way back when, but it was largely original drummer Justin Ennis (now of Mutilation Rites) that struck my fancy, and he only appeared on Tombs’ debut album. The next couple times I saw the band live, I was left feeling uninspired by the overall vibe. But tastes change and sounds evolve, and I am happy to report that the group’s latest offering, entitled Savage Gold, has me re-intrigued and inspired to re-examine its back catalog as well.
Savage Gold opens quite strongly with “Thanatos”, a powerful beast of a tune that announces itself with distinction via rapid double-bass patterns and a focused, attention-grabbing fury. Subsequent track “Portraits” also brings a healthy dose of passion to the fold with a black-metal-yet-not-quite-black-metal approach. Which is perhaps worth noting in a broader context; Tombs’ sound often feels like a familiar exercise housed in an alternative mode of attack, something I find to be an admirable quality in any band. I certainly wouldn’t call this a black metal outfit in the tr00 sense of the genre title, but there are clearly elements that primary songwriters Mike Hill (guitar/vocals) and Andrew Hernandez II (drums, and the real technical standout on this new album) are influenced by, although they never let it constrict them. More than ever, Tombs continue to carve a new yet recognizable type of aural synthesis, one that is as informed by black metal as it is by post-metal. Newest lineup additions guitarist Garett Bussanick (also of Wetnurse and Flourishing) and bassist Ben Brand (ex-Woe) certainly help to add a rounder sonic picture as well.
Third track “Seance” has an introspective hookiness about it, with clearly defined melodies and pummeling heaviness from start to finish. But there are plenty of uneven songs on Savage Gold as well. As exemplified by the beginning section of “Echoes”, it becomes clear that while Hill slays aggressive, atonal vocals he seems a bit off-key whenever taking a more laid-back, cleaner vocal approach that calls for melodic pitch. And yet the very same opening part has some rather fluid guitar work and great creative drumming by Hernandez (sharply cut cymbal grabs sound quite unique in this context), and the track builds to epic proportions.
“Deathtripper” demonstrates Tombs’ moody side with a meandering groove accentuated by monotone, filtered vocals and a substantial amount of screechy feedback wails in the background. Not too much changes throughout this song, and yet it is one of the most distinct tracks on the album — once the turning point hits around the four-minute mark and things take a heavier turn the pervasive attitude shifts darker and Hill’s abrasive growls about suicide only add to the mood.
Subsequent track “Edge of Darkness” manages to defy its cliched title and create a rather meaty feel, much more in-your-face than the previous song but with a similar sense of autonomous personality — these two tracks feel representative of the heart of the album, displaying the qualities that make this band truly worth our attention. Barely any of the musicianship (aside from some of the drumming) is really all that stellar, but there is a nicely cohesive quality to the story each song tells, which seems to be more of the point anyway.
“Ashes” brings back the aforementioned pitchy, half-sung vocal style that rubbed me the wrong way prior; again I found myself wishing some of the vocal melodies had been further fleshed out but ironically, the track ends with a great outro featuring fantastic female singing.
“Legacy” is perhaps the heaviest ripper on this album, and one I would love to take in live. There is a wicked, knowing glean to this track that cannot be fucked with. One more stab at low-register, monotone vocals a la Peter Steele appears on the brooding, earnest “Severed Lives”, but this time Hill remains in a more baritone register that makes the melodies much more attainable. Hushed, whispered declarations regarding “this burning world” manage to be ominous and vulnerable at the same time.
Powerful final track “Spiral” highlights Hernandez’ rich, chop-heavy drumming once more (there is a repeated part that uses an emphasized pattern on the crash cymbals to great effect), as contrasted with some initially simple guitar lines. A lush chord progression introduced a little more than halfway through significantly increases the strength of the song, which culminates in a synth-heavy outro that suggests a space station vacuum to close the album.
Tombs does something that can feel a bit deceptive, in that the largely basic songwriting is often shrouded in a more complex veneer. But on the whole, Savage Gold embraces its simplicity much more than the band’s previous offering Path of Totality, and Hate Eternal‘s Erik Rutan’s seemingly stark yet subtly purposeful production helps the band find its bearings enough to feel comfortable simply being what it is.