Three years ago, New York’s Tombs dropped an impressive album in the form of Savage Gold, a seamless meld of post-rock heaviness, Gothic sensibilities, and blackened ichor that yours truly enjoyed tremendously. Since then, guitarist/vocalist/mainman Mike Hill presided over a change of labels and personnel, adding vocalist and synth player Fade Kainer (ex-Batillus), drummer Charlie Schmid (Vaura, Gospel of the Witches), and guitarist Evan Void (Hivelords) to the fold. One thing Hill promises with each Tombs release is to expect the unexpected. With The Grand Annihilation dawning, has Hill found the winning recipe, that sweet spot of blackened Gothic perfection? Or is it back to the Bauhaus School of Musical Design and Development to scrap it for something else?
Without missing a beat, “Black Cold Horizon” rampages like a furious Nor’Easter1, with Schmid blasting amid a furious tremolo melody. Hill growls and hisses with conviction, and the song only slows down enough to allow for a breather here and there before continuing the assault. There’s a hefty mid-point where a mournful solo adds a colorful counterpoint to the onslaught. Near the end, the song finally slows to a near crawl, almost being the musical equivalent of a beast surveying the aftermath of its destruction. Right off the bat, Tombs lays waste and takes no prisoners.
That’s merely one side of The Grand Annihilation, and strangely enough, the first half consists of the album’s faster, heavier numbers. “Old Wounds” retains some of Savage Gold‘s Gothic nuances while not once dipping its toe out of frigid waters, even when Hill warbles like a darker Peter Murphy near the end. Album highlight “November Wolves,” while being one month shy of reminding me of a long-disbanded favorite of mine, adds some tribal fury in the drumming, and an intense, almost danceable chorus that sees Hill and Kainer singing “Will you let yourself become me/will you let yourself become the night?” Moments like these prove that Tombs, when effective, hit that primal nerve with considerable impact.
But when they miss the mark, which they do by the album’s second half, the results are a chore to work through. “Walk With Me in Nightmares,” at a scant two minutes, sounds like it would build up to a convincing climax, but it ends without it ever arriving. “Shadows at the End of the World,” being the only song on the second half that reaches for the first half’s glory, still feels like it’s dragging on towards the end. Closer “Temple of Mars” only gets interesting towards the end when Hill screams “Step into the shadows/Dark angel rise!” over a pummeling riff. Erik Rutan’s production, while heavy and uncompromising, also cripples the music a bit, especially when it comes to Ben Brand’s bass, which gets buried during the album’s busier sections.
But please don’t think that The Grand Annihilation is a bad album. Far from it, but I found Savage Gold left more of a musical and emotional impact. That all boils down to a better, more evenly-paced track listing, and much better flow because of it. While not the statement of intent that Savage Gold crafted, The Grand Annihilation sees Tombs still creating their own brand, and honing their sound further. As always, an ear will be kept out for more.