There is, at least to my ears, a point at which doom, stoner rock, and sludge all intersect, at which point it’s hard to definitively class a band one thing or the other. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the common roots these sub-genres all share in Black Sabbath, Pentagram, Trouble, et al. And it’s this murky, fuzzy point of overlap that Portland, Oregon four-piece Tar Pit inhabit and do so quite knowingly and unashamedly. Formed in 2014, they appear to have done relatively little until they put out a self-titled 2017 demo. Although sounding suspiciously like it may have been recorded underwater, its three tracks form 20 or so minutes of solid, if unimaginative, Sabbath worship. It’s fair to say that Tar Pit used their EP to set out pretty clearly the stall for 2019 debut Tomb of Doom.1
With all the tracks from the demo coming across to make up three of the full-length’s five songs, including the now-title track, “Tomb of Doom” itself, the basic blueprint from Tar Pit has not changed dramatically. Or at all. Indeed, while “Bruja” and “Tomb of Doom” gained about 30 seconds and a little over a minute, respectively, in their journey from humble demo track to full LP status (“Sauin” has had a few seconds shaved off), one might ask what took so long. The answer to that may or may not have something to do with the recruitment of new lead guitarist Stephen Hoffman but, either way, it’s a slightly unfair question. Tomb of Doom is a superior offering to Tar Pit‘s demo. While we are still treated to the same sludgy doom worship of Sabbath and co, this is a much more refined record (and not only because of the production job, which we’ll come to), with more of a stoner edge to it than previously.
Opener “Rune,” one of the two new songs, undoubtedly draws on all the proto-doom influences out there but also has a faster, punk rhythm to it in places, as well as a welcome stoner blues tinge in the guitar leads, something that continues into “Sauin.” Mat Ortega’s vocals are decent enough, falling somewhere between Pentagram and Electric Wizard. This works reasonably well over the heavier, doom-laden sections of the record like “Capra Nocturnus” but a little more variety from Ortega would have been welcome. The title track is probably the most varied thing on Tomb of Doom, weaving into the fuzzy stoner doom template, some melodic bluesy sections over stripped back rhythms. It is probably also the closest to showing Tar Pit‘s own vision and identity.
Hoffman’s performance on lead guitar is solid, with a few decent leads, interspersed between the heavier slabs of stoner doom. I say solid, rather than, for example, ‘great’ because that’s what it is: solid. And perhaps that ultimately sums up Tar Pit‘s efforts on Tomb of Doom. The sound on Tomb of Doom is exactly what you would expect from a band called Tar Pit, that cites influences including Black Sabbath, Pentagram, Sleep and more, whose debut is called Tomb of Doom. It’s a deliberately fuzzy, murky affair and sounds pretty good for it, with a dirty bass edge to the guitars. For my taste, something has gone a little awry in the mix, with Derek Johnson’s drums a bit drowned and indistinct at times, while Ortega’s vocals sound like he may be standing several feet away from the mic.
Tar Pit are exactly what I thought they would be when I hauled this out the promo bin. Perhaps a little too exactly. I was expecting — even hoping for — some worship of the innovators of the stoner doom movement and Tar Pit do this well but they don’t do much else. I’m aware of how hard it is to do something truly different in any (sub)genre, and perhaps this more than many, but Tomb of Doom is way too comfortable a listen. I’m not asking for revolution here but some evolution would be welcome and there are elements on the title track, “Rune” and “Tomb of Doom” that suggest Tar Pit have the raw talent to do it. However, they need to cut loose and not play it so safe if they’re going to find their own voice.