Svart Records is one odd label. Housing everything from local acts like Demilich, Oranssi Pazuzu, and Vainaja to the States’ Acid King and Aldrahn’s international group, The Deathtrip, this label does everything from black to death to doom to sludge. And Finland’s Tombstoned is yet another group to round-out the bizarre mix of talent sitting in the label’s dugout. With a name like Tombstoned, you can probably gather that these boys love the sweet leaf and the doomy, sludgy sweet life of the ’70s. Warping back to a time once ruled by Black Sabbath and shared by Hawkwind, Tombstoned lather up in the buzzy, dynamic, heaviness of the former, while incorporating the psychedelics of the latter. With a vocal hybrid of The Cure‘s Robert Smith, Hawkwind‘s Dave Brock, and subtle hints of The Doors‘ Jim Morrison, the band appears to be just another proto-metal product. And, for the most part, they are. However, they showed a lot of balls on their 2013 self-titled debut and are back once again to show us how to take your influences and make them your own. Or are they?
Interestingly enough, 2016’s II is one song longer than the debut (seven, instead of six), but about ten minutes shorter. But, somehow, II feels longer than its predecessor. This may be due to the fact that Tombstoned borrows so much from its influences this time around that “originality” and “variation” seem absent; a negative trait that did not befall Tombstoned. Nevertheless, II has a lot of great moments and its dedication to our doom forefathers shines through the muck like a beacon of light. Even though II has moments of “been-there, done-that,” it does continue where the debut left off, pushing forth with an energy as old as the Lemmy-era Hawkwind, and as familiar as the names: Butler, Iommi, Ozzy, and Ward.
“Pretending to Live” cracks the sky with some tolling bells before it sets the mood with a chest-rumbling buzz reminiscent of Masters of Reality Black Sabbath and Kyuss. Jussi’s vocals and guitars cut through the asphalt-like thickness just enough to allow a hole to breathe, but never enough to let you escape. The opener (like the pilot of a television show) is all about mood and character development. It is a great, emotion-driven track, but its sole purpose is to set you up for what’s coming down the pipeline. And what comes hard and fast is “Brainwashed Since Birth;” arriving just in time to give these characters a purpose and put them to work. This short, three-minute ditty has a groove as addictive as cannabis and a mission to invert all of your frowny, pitiful faces.
“And I Told You” takes its queues from “Brainwashed Since Birth” by incorporating its addictive grooviness with more of the melodic moments present in the opener. What gives “And I Told You” (as well as “Haven’t We Seen All This Before” and closer “Remedies”) its memorable groove is the meaty bass work from Olavi. It is so chunky and prominent in the mix that it will have Lemmy’s Rickenbacker weeping like a baby. On top of the rumbling bass, “Haven’t We Seen All This Before” and “Remedies” are perhaps the most rounded of all the II tunes; mixing the bass-led grooves with up-beat tempos meant to counter all the suffocating doom found everywhere else on the album. The latter track is perhaps a bit more straight-forward in approach, but it’s mixture of The Melvins-ish buzz and its droning conclusion make it stick like quicksand to your ankles.
Unfortunately, in between the groovy and doomy highlights, overly simplistic numbers like “You Can Always Close Your Eyes” lack originality and the focus on its addictive chorus gives the song a lack of completeness. Additionally, tracks like “Time Travels” are so mediocre they pass by as if they never existed. However, the highlights do their damnedest to outweigh the riffs Sabbath wrote some 175 years ago. But the thing that really makes II shine is its dynamics. They are so goddamn good that they are singlehandedly capable of giving this album a high score. With an air as polluted as the earthy smell permeating from your neighbors kitchen window, II sounds like it came straight from the turntables of Uncle Bud’s shaggin’ wagon. II may not be the best music of 2016, but it sure as hell is one of the best mastering jobs of 2016.
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3