Written By: Pándaros
Metal and ambiance have a complex relationship. In the beginning, there were riffs, yes, but how much of this musical institution was also founded upon theatrics like those found in Black Sabbath’s eponymous track? If you set the original 1970 vinyl to spin, you would hear that the song begins with tolling bells and the sound of rain, not its nasty tritone arpeggio, not even Ozzy’s haunted screams. Eventually, the history of metal would become littered with bands good to horrible, KISS to Slipknot, running wild with their own grim aesthetics. And yet, for every flux of fake blood and eyeliner, for every leap in production quality, there has always been a backlash contingent wagging their fingers at those not focusing on the “real music.”
Makers of what they’ve referred to as “shadowy,” “blackened,” and “industrial” noise, T.O.M.B. ask in their own language of exploding synthesizers what would happen if, instead of making music haunted and cinematic, someone collected everything haunted and cinematic about metal and made it musical. Literally, this is a group that has crafted an entire album from samples recorded at famous insane asylums, and here on their newest release, Fury Nocturnus, they do their best to convince listeners they have found an even spookier space. The album takes a few minutes to begin, but eventually announces itself on the second track, “Awake,” when four percussive hits surge out of the writhing static. They sound like they could be hammers on a torture device, or maybe bones on a stone altar.
This beating reappears throughout the project and provides a backbone for the whirling and viscous noise, which echoes over itself in enough layers to render individual instruments or synthesizers indistinguishable. It’s a sonic structure I cannot remember hearing anywhere else (save, perhaps, the droniest of drone records), and because of it Fury Nocturnus does not rise and fall like most metal releases. The highlights do not come in punctuated moments of intensity—in fact, it would be surprisingly difficult to rank each song by speed or volume—but rather in melodic fragments that crystallize in the crushing sound. On “Darkness,” drums rumble beneath a chord progression that, played by strings, would make a mournful dirge; on “Ignite the Torch Again” and “Oblivion Dawn,” T.O.M.B. do their impressions of a doom riff, which ends up sounding something like a Mongolian throat singer fed through a Marshall amplifier; and finally, on the title track the synthesizers sync to those percussive hits so that together they can march ruthlessly to the tune of ethereal, churchly vocals.
So the ambiance is there: T.O.M.B. can create a mood gloomy enough to remember. The next question is whether or not the metal (really, the music) on Fury Nocturnus is actually worth playing a second time. The affirmative to this follow-up is harder to get behind because as dramatic as the project’s conceit may be, it does not make for the most thrilling listen. Aforementioned moments aside, the stretches of reverberating distortion cumulatively give the impression of listening to a playlist of atonal buildups in horror soundtracks. Perhaps that is a compliment to a band embarking on an experiment like this one, or whose name is an acronym for “Total Occult Mechanical Blasphemy,” but musically speaking a good buildup demands a resolution—even if it’s just silence.
Ultimately it is this miscalculation of how metal and ambiance differ that makes Fury Nocturnus a letdown. Even if T.O.M.B. do know what it takes to build effect, they fail to pair that understanding with one of the highs and lows that captivate a musical audience. They could actually learn a lot from that Black Sabbath song, which uses the sound of rain and bells to set the stage for a song that lumbers forth in vicious dissonance, then breaks off at just the right moment into a rollicking, bluesy guitar jam. No, this judgment does not come from a curmudgeonly dedication to “real music,” characteristic of so many metalheads wedded exclusively to conventional instruments. Actually, I would be remiss not to point adventurous listeners to electronic acts whose ear for the occult makes for dynamic metal, like The Haxan Cloak and his seamless mixing of weird and somehow intimate samplings, or Aether and his drum machine taking black metal where so many are too scared (or stubborn) to go. These artists get that the music and the mood of metal, while kin, require individual attention and distinct skill sets.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Peaceville Records
Websites: tombtotalocculticmechanicalblasphemy.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/totalocculticmechanicalblasphemy
Releases Worldwide: October 21st, 2016