Album: The Grand Annihilation
Label: Metal Blade
Genre: Blackened Post Metal
Release Date: 16th June 2017
There are certain bands that bleed their homeland from their pores. You listen to Neurosis and you can feel Oakland, Ca. dripping from every piece of sweat that falls off their bent, furrowed brows. The same can be said of Tombs, a New York City band that has always reflected the crusty, dirty, industrial grit of their home. You just understand they’re from a big city right away just as you understand that they’re not representative of some effete elite, but hard-working, blue collar guys who would be just as much at home welding as they would be playing in a metal band. Tombs has always had this genuine authenticity, and when main man Mike Hill grunts or shrieks or sings about something, you know it’s from the heart. The Grand Annihilation, the latest from this blackened post-metal outfit, gives more of the same, but some things have changed.
The band has evolved. Yes, the Black Metal elements are still there, as is the crushing aggression, but they’ve expanded their pallet somewhat, and for most it will be refreshing, and for (hopefully) very few, it will be off-putting. I for one welcome the additions and the nuances. After all, when you’ve got such an accomplished discography as Tombs does, your only options are to repeat yourself or do something different. This release may serve to be a bridge into something totally alien next time out, and if so, that will be worth the debate if it happens. As of right now, we have a band in a bit of a transition. So what’s in the record itself?
Opener “Black Sun Horizon” is some brutal blackened metal. It powers out of the gate, pure aggression and brawn. You notice right away that this song and what follows are thick with strength and girth. There is no thinness to anything here, just heaviness. The next few songs settle into something of a pattern for this record: they are all mostly mid-paced and much more melodic. There is nothing wrong with this and indeed, here is where we find Hill stretching his legs, adding gradation to his vocals, slipping away from the growl into smoother, more gothic tones. There’s some Nick Cave here and some Cemetery (circa the Sundown album) in tone and darkness. A prime example of this is the song “Underneath,” with is serpentine riffs and deep intonations. And this is a good thing, as it keeps the band from becoming stale or repetitive.
The other blackened metal track is “Way of the Storm,” which sits right in the middle of the record, dividing the album in two. Much like the first half, the songs that follow become more mid-paced and melodious, but no less heavy. There are no ballads and there is no stepping away from being metal, it’s just…different, more for listening and contemplating than banging your head. Hill brings the goods on every song and there’s not a wasted track on the album.
Other highlights include:
“November Wolves,” melodic and yet pummeling, comes to a punishing conclusion the last few moments of the song as it rumbles over the listener, crashing and crushing. This is heavy and confident and bludgeoning. There’s no need for speed, not when you can steamroll. And like every song on the record, the passion in Hill’s vocals really shines here.
“Shadow at the End of the World” is another bruiser. Here Hill goes back to his growl and the guitars do that slowed-down Black Metal strumming to accentuate the grooving riffs that buttress the song. This is from-the-guts metal, played straight up and with every hostile intent possible. Nice, evocative guitar solo, too.
“Saturnalian,” the next to last track, is a slippery beast. It is heavy, yes, but it really wallows in the gothic and again, Hill is building atmosphere and emotion here, just like he has on every Tombs release. In this case, it tends towards the more darkly romantic, in a strange way, and less on anger and aggression. When he sings “Into the chasm,” he sounds ghoulish, not demonic, and this gives the song a feel that maybe Tombs might have previously avoided but here they embrace. It adds shade and color (although we’re dealing with varying tints of black here) and keeps things from becoming boring.
Hill has stated that he wants to continually change and evolve and I think he’s accomplished that with this album. In terms of sound, this is still Tombs, make no mistake, but the scope of the band had been broadened, creating a more emotional and varied experience. This is the sound of a band moving forward, changing, progressing, and yet keeping that core essence that makes them unique. It will be interesting to see what they do next.
1. Black Sun Horizon
3. Old Wounds
4. November Wolves
6. Way of the Storm
7. Shadows at the End of the World
8. Walk With Me in Nightmares
10. Temple of Mars
Total Playing Time: 48:37