Thursday, 3 December 2020

Tombs - Under Sullen Skies (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Post-Black Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 20 Nov 2020
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I was planning to kick off today with with a review of the new Six Feet Under, their seventeenth studio album, but then I pressed play and couldn't even make it through one song. Chris Barnes, formerly of Cannibal Corpse, now sounds so weak that I can't help but wonder if three decades and more of death growls have literally destroyed his voice. It sounds like he needs medical assistance. I hope he gets it.

So here's the new Tombs instead. They've been playing post-black metal out of Brooklyn, NY since 2007 and this is their fifth studio album, though the majority of the band has changed since their previous album, The Grand Annihilation, in 2017. Only Mike Hill on lead vocals, guitar and keyboards predates that and he was a founding member. I don't know if he just hired everyone from New Jersey's Kalopsia except the guitarist or they're lending a hand until he can put a new line-up together. Either way, this new Tombs works very well.

At least, it did once I got into it. I don't know if it was the aftertaste from that Six Feet Under album, but it took a little while for this to really grab me. It was the third track, Barren, that did it, with wild soloing and a thoughtful midsection. As that one ended and the keyboard intro to The Hunger began, I decided to start the album over again but didn't manage to actually do until quite a few songs had gone by. They just kept grabbing me.

The Hunger grabbed me, partly with distorted vocals that sound bizarrely like Lemmy and partly with sheer heaviness. Then Secrets of the Black Sun showed up, highlighting just how far from black metal the band have come. This is death/doom and it's as slow as molasses with a haunting female voice that floats up and away from its plodding drums. That grabbed me as well. Eventually, I managed to break the cycle by starting the album again before whichever next song started. And this second time, I was on board from the outset. Frickin' Six Feet Under.

Tombs are getting really interesting. Bone Furnace barrels along like black metal and Mike Hill has a shrieky harsh voice but there's a warmth to the tone that goes against the black metal mindset. Black metal bands wouldn't generally go for production clear enough to catch all sorts of cool basswork at the beginning of Void Constellation. Those vocals find a death growl here as effortless as the shrieks on the opener and, however much double bass there is, this is death/doom that enjoys going slow as much as the black metal of the opener enjoyed going fast.

I presume that the folks from Kalopsia brought the death, but what about the doom? How about some of the more experimental material like Sombre Ruin? There's almost an industrial vibe to that, plus a layer of howling wolves, even though it plays as doom too. I wonder how much Celtic Frost factor into this. I'd bet money everyone involved has been listening to plenty of them, because I can hear it over varied material here: in the black-infused blitzkrieg of Descensum, the blackened death of Lex Talionis and the mid paced grind of Plague Years. Above all, it's in Mordum, which could be a tribute song. It's there in Sombre Ruin too, if not as overtly.

All that said, however much influence is here, this new Tombs are certainly not a Celtic Frost clone and I'm just appreciative of the variety they threw into this album. It's a generous one, running exactly an hour, but I never got bored, even though some of these songs feel longer than they are. Plague Years and Angel of Darkness are whiskers under seven minutes and Secrets of the Black Sun is a whisker over that. Maybe they'll start to tire after a few more listens.

As it stands, after a couple of times through, I'm rather thankful that the Six Feet Under sucked.

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