Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement Review

Longevity is underrated. In 1999, I was a school kid listening to so-so indie rock. Meanwhile, Forgotten Tomb was formed and was busy defining the depressive black metal subgenre: 2003’s Springtime Depression and 2004’s Love’s Burial Ground are considered reasonably important touchstones for the era. Since then, the band has undergone some fairly significant changes, but mastermind Ferdinando “Herr Morbid” Marchisio, has been the constant. Like many bands, Forgotten Tomb’s sound has gradually evolved away from its earlier, depressive roots, and towards a more blackened doom aesthetic. Now they guys are back with Nihilistic Estrangement, which is being promoted as a “new chapter” in their career. Does the way forward look rosy for these depressive miscreants?

Nihilistic Estrangement can best be described as a smorgasbord of all Forgotten Tomb’s previous periods, and through this lens, the band’s eclectic output can be seen. From crunchy doom (“Active Shooter”), to standard black metal (“RBMK”), with detours into melodic post-metal, Estrangement demonstrates a multi-faceted group of musicians capable of wearing many different masks. On one hand, this chameleon-like quality should make for a varied and interesting experience. But this eclecticism is also the album’s biggest weakness; it feels like the band is dipping its toes delicately into each sub-genre, rather than wholeheartedly diving in. The result is a collection of songs that is fine… but lacks any real teeth. Like visiting a bunch of famous landmarks but not adequately exploring them, this experience is superficial and frustrating.

Opener “Active Shooter” provides an eerily prescient template for the album as a whole. The first half of the track features standard, mid-paced blackened doom. The riffs are standard, the pace unhurried, and it’s neither great nor terrible, it just… is. Then, halfway through, a wonderful, mournful, post-metal type solo enters, and the material is immediately elevated. But before you get too excited, it reverts back to the rather uninspiring formula of the first half. And that’s Nihilistic Estrangement in a nutshell. The first half is standard, if a bit dull, but then the title track enters, and for nine glorious minutes, it’s magnificent. Shimmering guitars, a clear melody, a languid but never boring pace, and fury that barely masks a profound sadness. It plays to all of Forgotten Tomb’s depressive BM strengths, and it’s masterful and compelling. Then, like an evanescent dream, it ends, and we’re back to the standard stuff to see things out.

On the plus side, the production here is excellent. Recorded on old-school equipment from the 60s and 70s, you wonder why more bands don’t follow suit if these are the results. It’s clear without being too clean, emphasizing the instruments and highlighting the strengths of the band while maintaining a pleasing vintage quality. Marchisio’s vocals are superb: committed, furious and commanding, and the general musicianship is solid throughout. Being able to adopt so many styles isn’t easy, but these guys handle it with quiet aplomb. Execution is clearly not the problem here, and when they click, Forgotten Tomb sounds like the well-oiled machine it clearly is.

Nihilistic Estrangement can best be summed up as follows: well-established, talented band searching for its identity unsurprisingly discovers it’s actually best at the genre it helped define. When the material is black metal, or a variant thereof, Forgotten Tomb soars. But when the guys venture into more doom-laden waters, things go awry. Unfortunately, that means that Nihilistic Estrangement contains one excellent track, one good track, and a whole lotta forgettable ones. That is just simply not a batting average to recommend. If there’s a silver lining to this misfire, it’s that when it plays to its strengths, Forgotten Tomb still has it. But if the band is to make anything truly memorable going forward… perhaps it needs to look back.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Agonia Records
Websites:  |
Releases Worldwide: May 8th, 2020

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