When I first heard about Glacial Tomb, I was lead to believe they were death metal. Next time it was black metal. I saw the words “hardcore” and “sludge” tossed around. When I finally sat down with their debut, I thought I’d settle the debate with my top-of-the-line reviewer ears. Well fuck those, and fuck me too, because Glacial Tomb will not be pigeonholed so neatly. With their eponymous debut confusing more listeners than a Vhol album,1 the question isn’t whether the Coloradans—fronted by Khemmis‘ Ben Hutcherson—can stitch together a million and one genres. It’s whether the music is any good by the time they’ve finished their Frankensteinean monsterpiece.
Glacial Tomb doesn’t drop any chainsaws during its juggling act, but more than a few pins hit the dirt. A mud-soaked veneer covers every inch of the grimy proceedings, though chalking this up to a singular influence is difficult. Careening from hardcore-tinged death plod (“Monolithos”) to full-on D-beats (“Breath of Pestilence”) to a cavernous blackened grind with a nitro tank of blasts (“Shackled to the Burning Earth”) can do that to you. Oh, did I mention the bright, post-black tendencies? The extended drum passages worthy of sludge-doom? I haven’t even started on the thrashy bits. Reading all of the ingredients on Glacial Tomb‘s label requires an electron microscope and several degrees in metallurgy. That Glacial Tomb sticks together at all is a Christmas fucking miracle. And at its best, when it hums along with a Convergean ethos and Hutcherson and Connor Woods (ex-Abigail Williams) barking and screaming over the top, its attitude makes a compelling argument that it can be damn near anything it wants.
But the lack of interesting songwriting does not. If anything hamstrings Glacial Tomb, it’s an inability to weave compelling passages together at length. The LP clocks in at a tight 35 minutes but rarely does the music crackle and churn enough to hold your attention. Glacial Tomb rarely let the good passages ride long enough for that, and songs run too long when they do. Riffs that start strong may slow down for no reason or fizzle when meh verses over-utilize a strong chorus to prop up the song around it. If “Breath of Pestilence” was just “TRAITORS!” and its bridge-in riff looped for forty seconds, grindcore-style, I’d actually prefer it to its full five-minute length. Riffs that work once may not work twice or thrice. Some don’t even make it that far. Further, while Glacial Tomb is rarely predictable in schizophrenic tone, its construction isn’t. The march-one-bar, halt-the-next tropes and the elongated outros quickly grew tiring with unsparing use. “Sunless Dawn” combines all of this to grind the same vocal-reliant passage into dust at the end of a too-long song that has me contemplating harakiri for the ears every loop through.
Though lacking clarity in places, Dave Otero’s dirty production does everything you can imagine, and does it well: grind, thrash, death, meloblack. The rhythm placement is particularly strong, with Michael Salazar’s quality drum effort afforded a spotlight and Hutcherson’s rhythm performance primed for some hot fuzz when given the chance on songs like “Of Flesh and Worship.” However, the trade-off sees Woods’ bass work trapped under ice somewhere back in Denver.
Hutcherson’s leads can light things up on the fretboard at will—the quick little trills of “Shackled to the Burning Earth” and blackened tremolotry of “Drowned” wouldn’t lie. But there too is the issue: greatness on Glacial Tomb comes only in short doses, an interesting fusion that scuffles because of inconsistent execution, not proof of concept. If Glacial Tomb stopped waffling around the good shit and simply pounded me into a crunchy mash of sinew, guts and boogers,2 it would be a winner. The caliber of the musicianship, the performance quality, and the commitment are all there. Glacial Tomb just need better songs.