Forgotten Tomb’s recent output has taken on a chunkier form — thick chord patterns becoming the prominent mode of expression. Their depressive black metal escapades of the early 2000s eradicated: the icy sheen of their stabbing tremolo making way for swampier humidity. Now their sound has a lot more in common with southern American bands like Crowbar, Down, and Obituary whilst also sprinkling elements of hardcore and crust into their sound. We Owe You Nothing is Forgotten Tomb’s ninth full-length. Herr Morbid – vocalist, guitarist, and founding member – is at the fore, joined by bassist Algol and drummer Asher who have both been with the band since 2003’s Loves Burial Ground.
Opener “We Owe You Nothing” is a relentless blues-laden sludge number. Herr Morbid spits venom as his vocals contort through various extreme guises. Deep and dirty sludge shouts; vulnerable and depressive snarls; and sharp, throat-cutting snarls are at the helm, although the occasional jaunt into croaking, spoken word realms, and other peculiar territories are never too far away. Beneath these vocals, the instrumentation saunters at an uninspiring pace, a bastard child of Obituary and Black Stone Cherry. Towards its end, it moves into more emotional and melodic vistas as guitar solos and melodic chord progressions rise to the fore, but ultimately it’s immemorable and lacking in originality and character. Follow-up “Second Chances” continues the theme of the previous but with a more urgent and ominous thrust. Asher’s drumming is heavier with double-bass gallops more prominent, Algol’s bass tone deeper and more urgent, and Morbid’s riffs carry greater dissonance and bleakness. Spurts of punky aggression claw through the mix, off-setting the cavernous sound at the song’s core. Both songs are decent but lack a hook and a truly defining feature. Despite transitioning the mix of styles with fluency, the individual sections lack impetus and energy.
Thankfully, “Saboteur” regains the initiative, surging with crusty, head-banging sweetness. Flecks of lead guitar melody twinkle above the sordid crust, clashing with Morbid’s excellent growls and expressive bass rhythms. The song has groove, aggression, and energy aplenty. “Abandon Everything” continues this with an even greater melodic focus, sounding somewhat like a mix between Converge and In Flames. Similarly, “Longing For Decay” stretches the melody through realms of middle-eastern expressiveness before abruptly flying it back to the slow, doomy swamplands of America. It’s at this point that I forget that I’m listening to Forgotten Tomb, once depressive black-metal – a band I used to accompany many a sad day of brooding. And, essentially, I don’t care that they sound nothing like that band because some of this is good stuff and there are thousand-and-one bands dipping their toes in depressive waters. But there are thousand-and-two sludge-crust-whatever hybrids too. I still don’t think Forgotten Tomb know what they’re going for.
“Saboteur” is four minutes too long. In fact, the album suffers from a bloated determination to drag out riffs and patterns for too long. “Second Chances” fades out with superfluous self-indulgence, as does the opener. The styles are not diverse enough for songs to run for such length. Compared to their other more recent albums, particularly Under Saturn Retrograde and … and Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, We Owe You Nothing lacks both the black metal and doom elements to off-set and transform songs into the epic territories that long songs need to succeed.
The shortest track is the closer “Black Overture” which sounds somewhat like a love letter to their depressive past. It’s a beautiful and rich instrumental with airy tremolo pulsing through bubbling, dreamy bass lines and subtle yet rapturous drumming. It makes me want more, so much more. Forgotten Tomb aren’t that band anymore. We Owe You Nothing is by no means a bad album, but it’s nothing special either. Comfortably riding the coattails of a thousand other bands, Forgotten Tomb have gotten lost in the pack and lack charm and character completely. Signs of intrigue arise then fade, buried by overlong songs and unsatisfying song structures. Destined to become a forgotten tomb, perhaps.