Perhaps it’s unfair to place an expectation on a month of the year, however following the ridiculous bounty of goods bestowed upon us by the metal gods during the month of October, the remainder of the year seems almost destined to disappoint. On the other hand sometimes it’s nice to get back to the bare basics for a good old dose of unpretentious meat and potatoes brutality. Enter up and coming Kentucky crew Tombstalker. The band’s chosen moniker is a fairly obvious giveaway to the style of metal the trio ply on their debut long player, Black Crusades. Yes this is burly, grime ridden death that turns a cold shoulder towards scene trends, gimmicks and modern advancements in favor of a rather colorful old school palette. Tombstalker incorporates elements of the much pillaged Stockholm sound from yesteryear along with blackened dollops of thrash, Gothenburg-style melody, punk attitude and the pummeling groove and heft of classic Bolt Thrower.
Tombstalker have been lurking in the shadowy underground since forming in 2008, releasing a string of splits, demos and an EP before hammering out the raw and vibrant tunes that comprise this debut. What Tombstalker lack in innovation and originality they make up for in sheer asskickery along with a strong melodic sensibility and knack for crafting addictive old school death riffs. Busting out a trick shot via the delicately strummed notes of acoustic instrumental opener “Forlorn Recollections,” Tombstalker quickly establish their intentions on “Chaos Undivided” courtesy of festering death grooves, surprisingly deft guitar work and a soul swallowing climax. There’s a loose, unhinged feel to the material, but make no mistake, the musicianship is quite tight and accomplished, while the cavernous, distant growls fit the part well.
Tombstalker’s mode of attack is fairly straightforward but the quality of the riffs and song-writing variety finds the band operating a cut above your average retro death fodder. I especially dig the more intricate guitar passages and sinister melodies sluicing through the album’s brutish core and complimenting the barbaric rumble of tracks like “Blood Thirster” and “Fate Weaver.” With song titles derived from the Great Book of Death Metal Clichés and an endearing sound, Black Crusades is an easy album to get behind for non-fussy death fiends. Album highlight “Soul Eater” sounds like an imperfect marriage of old school Gothenburg and Stockholm influences, mixing the slick, speedy melodies of the former with the d-beat driven aggression and murky grooves of the latter. And it fucking rocks in all its enthusiastic throwback glory. Tombstalker’s strengths lay in their combined flair for melody and graveyard atmosphere rolled into a relentlessly thrashy, groove-drenched bludgeon. Black Crusades keeps the good times rolling, closing with the satisfying weight and song-writing variables of eight minute epic “Chaos Enthroned.” Here’s a song that really nails that sinister, horror-themed old school atmosphere. Church bells toll ominously as eerie melodies intertwine with grimy riffs and a steady double bass pulse.
As enjoyable a ride as Black Crusades can be, it’s not without a few issues. Despite being a consistently solid listen, little here really grabs you by the throat or compels in the kind of lasting fashion that the finer death metal albums of 2015 do. A couple of songs are a touch overcooked and certain high points are evened out by some unremarkable song-writing. Black Crusades was mixed and mastered by Horrendous mastermind Damian Herring at his Subterranean Watchtower Studios. Disappointing stock standard dynamics aside, the guitar tone is killer, the bass drums offer ample punch and the overall sound is thick and gritty, yet easily discernible.
Tombstalker is a quality old school death metal band possessing the talent, passion and song-writing ability to deliver something more noteworthy down the track. Right now Black Crusades stands as a solid debut platter that should hold the interest of old school fans who like their death metal charred, beefy and just a little bit rotten.