Brooklyn-based experimental black metal outfit Tombs is one of those bands that it seems like everyone loves, but I’ve never quite been able to get into. For me, the problem has always been that Mike Hill and company’s music has always seemed a little too unfocused – it pushes against boundaries, but it felt like it was doing so in an aimless fashion. That being said, I wasn’t expecting to much care for The Grand Annihilation, their soon-to-be-released fourth full-length and first for Metal Blade. I have to say, though, that I was pleasantly surprised by how much more stripped-down and focused this record is than their past output. I’m not sure how it will play with long-time Tombs fans, but I think it’s probably the best thing the band has ever done.
I think the biggest difference between The Grand Annihilation and their previous albums is that the songs have a much more clearly defined shape to them, possibly because each track is trying to accomplish less. There are really only two dominant modes on this record – the distinctly riffy NYC brand of black metal a la Woe or Black Anvil, and Bauhaus-esque post-punk, including some impressively Peter Murphy-ish clean vocals, that becomes a bit more prevalent in the record’s second half. Opening track “Black Sun Horizon” kicks things off in furiously blackened fashion, and features some really nice melodic interplay between the guitars in the main tremolo-picked riff. “November Wolves” starts off as a mid-tempo stomper before taking an almost danceable post-punk turn in its latter third, and makes effective use of clean female vocals as well. Album highlight “Underneath” is almost pure Bauhaus with its simple, repeating guitar figure and minimal drums.
The album isn’t without its flaws, though, and it does lose some steam in its back end. Penultimate track “Saturnalian” has a tight, swinging main riff that’s one of the best on the record, but the songs that surround it don’t have the same kind of energy. If the record were eight tracks and 40 minutes instead of ten and 50, it probably would have been a stronger record overall. “Way of the Storm” in particular doesn’t do much for me, remind me a bit too much of some of the more meandering material on their earlier records.
Still, I enjoyed this record overall a lot more that I’ve enjoyed anything else I’ve ever heard from Tombs, and it will probably stay in my rotation for at least a little while. I am curious, though, to see how longtime fans of the band react to the change in sound.
The Grand Annihilation will be available on June 16 via Metal Blade Records.