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Tombs - Under Sullen Skies Award winner

Under Sullen Skies
by Chris Hawkins at 28 December 2020, 7:51 PM

As 2020 finally wanes to a close, I think most of us can attest to the fact that one now has gained a thorough inventory of what can and should be appreciated.  Music is just such an essential service, an art form that provides perspective if not a lifeline to one’s overall well-being.  Most people reading this can relate to the innate excitement of discovering a band that is truly impressive.  It is a cathartic experience when one finds such a band or album that strikes a specific nerve.

TOMBS is just such a band.  After releasing “Monarchy of Shadows,” an amazingly impressive EP earlier this year which I in fact reviewed ("Monarchy of Shadows" Metal Temple review by Chris Hawkins), they have now released a full-length follow up in the form of “Under Sullen Skies”.  This is a record that expands upon the already iron-forged sound the band has perfected since the eponymously titled debut EP released in 2007, an amalgamation of all corners of Extreme Metal.

The first track, “Bone Furnace,” opens with a solid mid-paced groove perfect for that plodding, immersive Black Metal-inspired mood.  The band has grown on me so much between reviewing their earlier release this year and having seen them perform live at the Decibel Metal and Beer Fest last year, which seems like an eternity, that I can pick out TOMBS tropes occurring throughout the material here.  Such a TOMBS-ism would be the carefully placed palm mutes within the song which are not relied upon but rather used to really accentuate certain parts.  More gargantuan riffs follow with “Void Constellation” via some more monstrous palm muting.  The song vacillates between Doom type parts, and later, thick grooves which signal a foreboding aggression.

The analysis of the first two songs has heralded a spot for me to explain what I’ll refer to as the “TOMBS dilemma”.  Perhaps that is not the most appropriate term for it implies something wrong with the music which is certainly not my intent.  Rather, TOMBS is just one of those very few bands out there who explore the vast crevices of Extreme Metal, adopt the characteristics they agree upon, and then proceed to synthesize a sound all their own.  It is a massive sound enriched with melodic exploration by all the instruments.  They do not fail to use their two-guitar approach to their advantage when employing massive harmonies and a careful ear can pick out the deep bass grooves that serve to enhance such endeavors with intriguing runs.

The review would be remiss should I neglect to mention the fourth track, “The Hunger”.  The album already had a powerful momentum preceding it, but from the first monolithic riffs, it is clear things are now on overdrive.  The groove is absolute brutality expressed as Metal, that kind of riff one would expect from perennial favorites like the late NECROPHAGIA (r.i.p. Killjoy) or even GORELORD’s prolific “Norwegian Chainsaw Massacre”.  Simply put, this is mosh-approved, super-militant riffing, unafraid to kick up some dirt in the eye with the mission to make this as overwhelmingly furious as it is.  There are puzzlingly few, very few bands who seek to incorporate Black Metal with elements of raw power and muscle alongside atmosphere.  For someone who has been a Metal fan for quite some time, this is the track I would use to introduce them to the band.  Like PANTERA’s “Becoming” or TESTAMENT’s “DNR,” it is just one of those tracks that stands out acting as a catalyst to really get the blood flowing.  The inclusion of clean vocals puts an interesting twist on things with a vibe akin to a combination of traditional Goth with Maniac’s more exploratory work with MAYHEM such as on “Grand Declaration of War”.

TOMBS have achieved creative pay dirt, black gold, Texas tea.  Moving beyond the lame pop culture references, though, it blows my mind how this band is able to release an EP and full-length in the same year, both stuffed with top-shelf songwriting and devoid of filler.  Clearly, this band is on a roll releasing such a quantity of quality material in one of the most difficult years, 2020.  Another track to check out is the seventh, “We Move Like Phantoms,” a sub-two-minute instrumental exercise in explosive chugging riffs.

The production really enhances the muscular riffing with an authentic Extreme Metal guitar tone heavy on crushing rhythms yet set up to cover myriad lead tones and atmospheres without sacrificing any intensity.  The drums absolutely lock I with the bass, classic PANTERA-style for a slamming low end and to top it off, they are endowed with a singer who can alternate between blood-curdling shrieks, malevolent calls to arms, and the rare clean exercise made all the more effective by the band’s judicious restraint.

The bottom line is TOMBS is a band that I can truly endorse as being ahead of the pack, on the top of a scene devoid of anyone else similar.  This may sound like this is a band that is just creatively all over the place but that isn’t what I’m getting at.  Rather, they incorporate myriad techniques into their arsenal.  With the utmost care, they assemble their songs into a reflection of their true intent.  They absolutely succeed!  After “Monarchy of Shadows,” I had slight trepidation that they may be rushing this out too soon, but my worry was obliterated upon listening to this epic work.  Truly, this is not only one of the most promising, impressive bands, but one that stands on its own level.  The ultimate endorsement I can give this is to say this is the album I would play for friends who may be disillusioned, out of touch, or simply unaware of the band, an album I would endorse as a representation of elite Extreme Metal at its best.

Songwriting: 9
Originality: 9
Memorability: 10
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Bone Furnace
2. Void Constellation
3. Barren
4. The Hunger
5. Secrets of the Black Sun
6. Descensum
7. We Move Like Phantoms
8. Mordum
9. Lex Talionis
10. Angel of Darkness
11. Sombre Ruin
12. Plague Years
Mike Hill – Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Electronics
Drew Murphy – Bass and Backing Vocals
Justin Spaeth – Drums
Matt Medeiros – Lead Guitar
Record Label: Season of Mist


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