Astral Tomb – Soulgazer Review

Good brutal death albums ruin your day. You swing your fists and frown, letting the caveman slams and moist leads saturate your eardrums in a coat of red mist as the mosh-pit hysteria results in a few too many lost brain cells. Astral Tomb does just that, featuring all the hallmarks of a good slam/goregrind/brutal death album: opener “Transcendental Visions” fitting this to a tee, the thirteen-minute opener reeks of Carcass-meets-Devourment-meets-Blood Incantation gore in its brutal emphasis on excess. While our first introduction to Astral Tomb dwells in the cracked and diseased caverns of dead worlds, however, “Be Here Now…” relinquishes its gravity as listeners transcend space-time with its startlingly psychedelic meditation. Floating in the void, you vanish – and you’ll do so with a grin.

Astral Tomb is a death metal trio from Denver, Colorado, sharing the scene with likeminded acts like Blood Incantation and Noctambulist. Already featuring a storied career in stacked split Chasm of Aeons with Cryptic Shift, Replicant, and Inoculation, and EP Degradation of Human Consciousness‘ doom-tinged mediocrity, there’s already a large question mark over the trio’s first official offering. With debut Soulgazer, featuring shuddering slams and hell-scraping vocals in the brainless beatdowns you’ve come to expect from brutal death, as well as flourishes of tech-death and grind, there’s above all a warped atmosphere about Astral Tomb that I have not heard from, well, anyone. “Be Here Now…” is inexplicably jarring, bombarding the ears with warped keyboard ambiance and effects, completely out of place in a brutal death album. But while strange and off-putting, Astral Tomb makes one hell of a debut with Soulgazer thanks to its intricate and fluid songwriting, balancing meathead riffs with oxymoronic cosmic atmosphere.

At best, opener “Transcendental Visions” is a solid brutal death song – a misdirect. Featuring twelve minutes of shifting sands of punchy slogs with techy flourishes, wild solos, and pick slides galore, it’s gooey chunky goodness with some neat synth licks scattered throughout, but nothing that acts like Defeated Sanity or Katalepsy haven’t done already. In this right, “Be Here Now…” suddenly feels like a new introduction, because the following tracks feature honed explorations of cosmic atmosphere, guided by the gentle ebb and flow of dynamic songwriting. “Inertia (Crashing Through the Doorways of Eternity)” and “Ascending a Pillar of Light” are exercises in cosmic disintegration, as pummeling riffs dwindle into angelic ambiance and gentle plucking. Tinged with doom heft, Soulgazer utilizes tricks firmly within lanes of death metal with their own breed of atmosphere. What’s odd, however, is that it does not relegate itself into the apathetic or suffocating cosmos acts like Artificial Brain, Wormed, or Blood Incantation dwell in. Instead, as demonstrated in “Traversing the Wandering Star” or “Ascending a Pillar of Light,” the keyboard feels tranquil, beautiful, and otherworldly.

What’s so unique about Astral Tomb is that its ambiance seems so at-odds with its death metal. This trio has done what has largely been considered impossible – fusing one of the historically heaviest forms of extreme metal with delicate atmosphere. Notwithstanding, the brutal death metal tones are never forsaken, as “Traversing a Wandering Star” and “Inertia (Crashing Through the Doorways of Eternity)” feature stellar riffs and grimy slams to boot, while the percussion throughout is commanding and devastating. Soulgazer is challenging in this right, as the two tones can seem disparate and oxymoronic when paired; however, the songwriting is so honed and intricate that the bone-crushing riffs transitioning into cosmic tones feel like a natural development. Making stellar use of transitions, its only feeling of overstaying its welcome is in the Blood Incantation-themed, “first song is way too long” aesthetic, but otherwise, Soulgazer‘s thirty-seven minute runtime feels just right.

The closest others have come to Astral Tomb‘s “atmo-slam” dichotomy (for lack of a better phrase) is Universally Estranged‘s 2021 album Reared Up in Spectral Predation1 or a brutal death interpretation of Oranssi Pazuzu.2 but these comparisons aren’t entirely fair. In a paradoxically unique way, Soulgazer feels nearly gentle and contemplative in its ebb-and-flow dynamics. While never forsaking its mammoth brutality in heavy chugs, slam-like percussion, and hellish roars, there’s a crystalline beauty that transcends death metal stereotypes. The apathetic cosmos make appearances aplenty in extreme metal, but the vastness and insanity they invoke is unique to Soulgazer, balancing crushing brutality and transcendent melody. Astral Tomb sets the standard for innovative death metal for the year.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Blood Harvest Records
Websites: astraltomb.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/Astral-Tomb
Releases Worldwide: March 25th, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Shoutout to Dolphin Whisperer.
  2. Shoutout to Ferox.
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