Brooklyn’s Tombs have been quietly impressing listeners since 2007’s self titled debut EP, honing their craft and sound across a series of increasingly more focused releases, all culminating in this: Savage Gold, their apotheosis and the perfect synthesis of their bewitching blend of furious, razor-sharp black metal and the coldest of post-punk .
There has always been a cold darkness running through the music made by Tombs main man Mike Hill, from the darkest of dark hardcore noise rock of his first notable band Anodyne – not for nothing did they release an album named Outer Darkness – with the richest vein of it thus far to be found in Tombs, ultimately coalescing into a cold impossibly hard and perfectly flawless black faceted diamond squatting at the very heart of their sound.
Roaring out of the gate, lean, mean and setting out their stall from the off, Thanatos perfectly encapsulates the evolved and matured sound of Tombs, circa 2014 – prowling double-bass drum pummel blasts along beneath glinting, flinty obsidian guitars as they grind out Obituary-esque open chords and shimmering dissonance before shifting into sub-arctic tremolo picking that blooms into thick, snaking slow guitar lines that tighten like a ligature, choking the life and light out of everything. Hill’s vocal morphs between a throaty Scott Kelly snarl and a bloodcurdling black metallic bark, mirroring the seismic shifts in the music around him signalled by Andrew Hernandez’ whip-tight percussive thwack.
Portraits blasts in on a black metal whirlwind, guitars swarming, drums battering and Hill barking away, until we hear the first gleaming of the post-punk that informs so much of Tombs‘ sound, three minutes or so in, with Hernandez adopting a starkly rolling beat and Hill and fellow guitarist Garrett Bussanick adopting a more cutting tonal approach, cheesewire high-end sounds bouncing of dark strumming. It’s only a brief flash, however, and we’re soon back to the jagged propulsive metal once more, but it’s certainly a foreshadowing of what’s to come later.
Séance sits somewhere between Dissection and Thantifaxath – whose Sacred White Noise surely has to be my record of the year thus far – and sees the throbbing bass of Ben Brand assume a more audible role in proceedings as Hill and Bussanick utilise the higher register slightly atonal chime of their guitars more often, leaving his cavernous thrum to carry the rhythm atop the relentless percussive assault of Hernandez.
What is clearly audible within the sound of Savage Gold is the complete understanding of dynamics that the band as a unit has – black metal can be incredibly one-dimensional, just blasting away and tremolo picking a riff to death, but Tombs have invested it with depth and a real sense of dynamism that leaps right out of the speakers and demands attention. You’ll find no childish attempts to be ‘scary’, ‘evil’ or ‘grim’ here, just surgically applied black metal that cuts like the sharpest of scalpels. This is as much down to the remarkable work of producer, and death metal legend in his own right, Erik Rutan, as it is to the band, as Rutan has balanced the mix perfectly, allowing the drums to sit prominently without ever overpowering, the guitars to ring out clearly and the bass to be right there exactly when it is needed. He also wisely chooses to not treat Hills powerful vocal with the reverb that is so typical of meat and potatoes black metal, knowing that it would rob his varied palette of some degree of its power and thus detract from the sound as a whole.
His one exception is on the Killing Joke-meets-Godflesh hypnotic slow-grind of album highlight Deathtripper, in which he slightly roughens Hill’s droning baritone to add textural grit that allows the vocal to sit with the chugging, throbbing bassline that winds its way through the track whilst the guitars sit entirely in the higher register. Hernandez pulls it right back for this one until the final stretch when he kicks a brutal double-bass kick pattern in to really hammer things home.
The post-punk darkness first glimpsed briefly during Thanatos takes hold firmly in the track immediately before Deathtripper, Echoes, in which Killing Joke and Motörhead initially collide to magnificent effect before Darkthrone and Amebix join the fray to finish things off, but can be found rippling through Savage Gold as a whole, whether it be within the chilly interplay between Hill and Bussanick’s astringent guitar lines and the lowdown hollow burr of Brand’s bass, or when Hill employs his Jaz Coleman/Justin Broadrick clean vocal style throughout.
After the downbeat drone of Deathtripper, the ripping thrash of Edge Of Darkness is a brutal kick in the teeth, as scything chainsaw guitars rend flesh and atomsmashing drums pulverise bone – something about the energy of this track and the steely guitar scree that punctuates it puts me in mind of Pig Destroyer’s Terrifyer, which is no bad thing as far as I’m concerned.
The killing continues through the excoriating Amebix-play-Thantifaxath Ashes with its blastbeats, needling tremolo picking, chugging rhythm and Hill’s desperate vocal, the Swedish-inflected swarming riffs of Legacy and the breakneck speedy BM of closer Spiral, with a pregnant pause for penultimate track – and major highlight Severed Lives.
Severed Lives takes the moody post-punk that we’ve previously heard and strips it right back to bleakly chiming guitars, restrained percussion, prominent, stately bass and an edgy synth drone that evokes both Godflesh’s eerie Locust Furnace and The Cure, circa Disintegration, topped with a world-weary vocal from Hill that really seems to carry the weight of the world on its once-broad shoulders. It’s a sublime moment and a haunting respite nestled right between two slabs of high-velocity violence that serves to cleanse the palette, albeit somewhat bitterly, before the final assault.
As I said at the outset Savage Gold is special, it’s a record that will not only be on everyone’s end-of-year lists, it will be regarded as an exemplar of the form for years down the line, it really is that strong. Believe me, people are going to be talking about this one.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson