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Tombs Unleash Animal-Brain Black Metal on All Empires Fall

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Savage Gold, Tombs’ 2014 opus, was one of the most interesting albums to come out that year. It really felt as though singer/guitarist/coffee-drinker Mike Hill had found the perfectly potent ingredients he’d been looking for all along, top to bottom: from overall vibe to individual riff. That album was truly Tombs firing on all cylinders, and I’ve been curious to hear what the next destination for the band would be.

All Empires Fall doesn’t feel like they’ve quite arrived there yet, but are instead building a bridge towards it. If Savage Gold was both the human and animal brain of Tombs, then All Empires Fall is pure animal: riff-based, completely ripping black metal. It’s my favorite production of a Tombs record to date, aided by the compositional atmospherics of keyboardist and second vocalist Fade Keiner. Keiner is definitely a standout on this thing, and a welcome sign for the band looking forward – if I had one gripe with Savage Gold, it was that the atmosphere could tend towards overbearing at times. On this EP, Keiner functions similarly to Per Wilberg when he was in Opeth, laying more of a textural background than the in-your-face 70s lead-prog parts of Joakim Svalberg.

Of course, since this is an EP, the band don’t quite explore the depths of Path of Totality and Savage Gold, but that’s a good thing. I enjoy those albums, but do find that I often want Tombs to just approach the meat of what it is they’re good at, rather than always droningly crawl towards it. Which is exactly what they do on burners like “The World is Made of Fire” and “Obsidian” — riff, riff, riff, and then riff some more. And when they do play with brooding darkness, as on “Last Days of Sunlight,” the band doesn’t fuck around for a second. These are some of the most tightly-composed songs Tombs have ever written, and I anticipate will find it easier to connect with certain metal fans who aren’t enamored by the band’s tendency to drift off into the ether when mining their riff-content.

There’s a nice balance to this thing too, with each song flowing well from one to the next, with an even division and variety amongst them. “Deceiver” is a classic foot-stomper. Closing track “V” is straight doomy black metal with gorgeous minor-key harmonies. And Hill, aided by the backing vocals of Keiner, has found a perfect balance between the catchy-but-dreary clean vocals and aggressive screams — which all helps in keeping this thing fresh and entertaining to listen to.

American black metal is in an exciting place right now, where you have an incredible variety of bands all doing very different things with a subgenre that most people think of as pretty limited in aesthetic scope. When you consider that Tombs make this kind of music within an artistic community that’s called home by Mutilation Rites, Krallice, Sannhet, and Black Anvil, well, that’s pretty interesting. Ultimately, I haven’t left a Tombs album feeling completely satisfied — something about their compositional style doesn’t appeal to my sensibilities — but this EP definitely feels like another strong step in a direction towards something. Which is commendable in and of itself: this is a band that is clearly constantly pushing themselves and their art. I’m excited to hear what’s next.

Tombs’ All Empires Fall comes out this Friday, April 1 on Relapse. You can stream the entire album here and pre-order it here.

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