You wouldn’t call your band Tombstones on a whim really, would you? What are you going to expect from a band named after a stone dedicated to the deceased? Pop-punk? Soulful ballads? Nicki Minaj collaborations? Err, no, not here, sorry. Now back with their fourth release fresh off the heels of 2012’s well-received ‘Year of the Burial’, this experienced Norwegian three-piece deal in nothing but cold, rotten, miserable doom metal and on this evidence, there’s going to be no changing that any time soon.
Kicking off with the groove-laden ‘Black Moon’, Tombstones flick not a single long hair back in the direction of the rumbling stragglers as they plough straight into a gutter full of trainwrecking riffs and bludgeoning balls of bass. Front pairing Bjørn-Viggo Godtland and Ole Christian Helstad sound like Al Cisneros and Dixie Dave Collins having a marital tiff inside a jet engine as the overwhelming influence of Sleep breaks and crashes over and over to the rhythms of Jørn Inge Woldmo’s colossal drumwork. The opener falls and stumbles into ‘King of Daze’ – an initially equal smattering of downtuned pummel which gives way to a more ethereal midsection more befitting of one of Acid King’s psyche freak-outs, backed up by wads of ever creamy riffage.
In many ways, I feel like Tombstones actually have more in common with OM than Sleep in heritage as Godtland’s eerie guitar work grinds with a type of hypnotic repetition that mystifies the mind rather than stomping it down like a sledgehammer. On the flip-side, many could claim I’m chatting total chin-stroking shit and you could certainly accuse the band of borrowing far too generously from Dopesmoker’s well-worn path. ‘Obstfelder’ (potentially named after the famed Norwegian modernist poet) goes some way to backing up my first argument with its swathes of ear-ravaging feedback and driving bass lines succumbing to a grizzled demise. Those from-the-planet-next-door vocal lines ebb in and out, trying to catch you off guard as you sway like a palm-tree in the face of their mightily riffy wind.
Closer ‘Demon Cave’ also picks up on a certain progressive fluidity that may be a step too far out of The Matt Pike Songbook for the Shirtless and the Damned for many simple students of the claw. There’s a seasick feeling to the rolling bass fills and one-two tom hits that push Tombstones in the ambitious direction of a Cough or an Ufomammut over a more traditional doom band; a feeling which fails to subside until you’ve passed through that vocal portal to an ice-cold Oslo forest and back.
Criticisms? Well, it’s not a perfect record and other than battering your ears with swathes of psyche-inflicted power and despair, there’s not much you wouldn’t expect to hear on ‘Red Skies And Dead Eyes’ that you couldn’t get from hundreds of other albums. Sure, ‘The Other Eye’ and the title-track pack some groovier flavours that you might not anticipate, but ultimately if you know Tombstones and you know your doom, you might not find much more than the “everyday” here. As the former of those two tracks fades out, you can easily sense the “how do we write a lyric that sounds like ‘Proceeds the Weedian’ without actually saying ‘Proceeds the Weedian’…” problem behind the Norwegians’ project planning. There’s also a bit of “so what?” to some of these tracks and before you know it, the album has bulldozed by and you’ve already switched off either mentally or physically at some stage before the climax at the back of the ‘Demon’s Cave’.
Plus Points? Well, it sounds fucking enormous. Sir Billieth of Anderson and past producer Petter Svee have done a great job once again on the sound quality, to the degree that the midsection of the title-track sounds like 12 banshees wailing into the maelstrom of a thousand Marshall stacks being hurled towards the floor of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The songs, although repetitive, are nonetheless of a high standard and Woldmo’s drumwork is nothing if not trauma-inflicting throughout.
Ultimately, if you worship at the altar of the Pike, you’ll be sure to smirk a black-toothed grin in the direction of Tombstones’ latest slab of mournful rubble. That said, with such stiff competition in the doom field this year, ‘Red Skies And Dead Eyes’ will have to work infinitely hard to cut through the cream of the current crop. Still, what were you expecting from a band called Tombstones anyway? If you’re looking for anything other than a granite-tipped eulogy to the lost souls of the undead, best to look elsewhere.
Scribed by: Pete Green