Alchemy is a powerful philosophical practice that would lead their followers to perceived unlimited power. One of those goals ultimately outlined by alchemists is the ability to transmute lesser metals (such as lead) to more noble, socially-desirable metals such as gold. This romantic and idealistic viewpoint of bettering simple metals can be reflected onto the human race as well, with one’s desire to elevate themselves from more modest, humble origins to become something greater, more powerful. And yet, somehow retain their primal instincts while transmogrifying into their ideal form. Such is the basis of Brooklyn, New York’s Tombs and their newest album, the rightfully-titled Savage Gold. How does this stack up to its monstrous predecessor, 2011’s critically-acclaimed Path of Totality?
Right off the bat, “Thanatos” rumbles forth with blackened fury, quick double-bass work by Andrew Hernandez, and nice tremolo work by band leader Mike Hill and new guitarist Garett Bussanick (Flourishing), before going into a crawling, dirgy endpoint. Throughout the song, Hill keeps his rough vocals to a steady deathened roar, bringing forth more aggression while asking “Does the soul remain/does the spirit die/when flesh decays/does the will prevail?” Powerful stuff. In fact, the first three songs cement why Tombs are deserving of a spot on the infamously-selective Encyclopaedia Metallum webpage. “Seance” comes to mind immediately, bringing in a little bit of post-rock ambiance before going into a heavy-ass blackened breakdown at the 1:30 mark.
And speaking of the dreaded P-word, what was hinted at on Path is fleshed out more on Savage Gold. Hill’s love of Joy Division is readily apparent throughout the album, with his effective channelling of the late Ian Curtis coming to the fore on the Killing Joke-inspired “Deathtripper” and the throbbing “Severed Lives.” Whereas the juxtaposition of post-punk and black metal were more jarring on Path, the edges are sandpapered to a dark sheen on here. New bassist Ben Brand’s (ex-Woe) tone should be commended, as his playing brings forth the grit and dirt that is reminiscent of the band’s home as well as recalling the chunkiness of Pig Youth and Peter Hook with his playing.
The production by Erik Rutan (Hate Eternal) is quite well done. Not overly brickwalled yet not too clean, it’s a perfect fit for the music on Savage Gold. The electronics shine through, the aforementioned dirty bass tone is perfect, and the drumming is thunderous without losing the brilliance of the cymbals. My quibble is with some of the songs themselves. Sometimes, the music drones too much for its own good, with me skipping “Severed Lives” near the halfway point after the first initial listens to immediately progress to the album’s satisfying closer, “Spiral.”
Tombs should be quite proud of Savage Gold. It may not be a huge improvement over Path of Totality, it’s a more effective refining of an interesting formula that pays off greatly over repeated listens, and will finally stop the naysayers from arguing as to whether or not this constitutes as metal, noble or otherwise. Savage, indeed.