Tombs
Savage Gold

It is a rare and beautiful thing when a band is heavy not for heaviness’ sake, but as a necessity to reaching a deeper, more worthy goal of expression. Both the post-sludge and post-black genres of metal are oft-exploited templates for such explorations, and therein lies their crossover appeal. With Savage Gold, Brooklyn’s Tombs joins the ranks as one of the foremost members of this dark brotherhood.

The band’s previous output consisted of a dark variation on thick, crusty sludge, similar to Germany’s excellent Planks. Even though their past work might easily be characterized as “blackened Neurosis,” there was always a little more to them than that. “Merrimack” from the debut was tragic-heavy in the way of Jesu. But Savage Gold sees some significant changes to the band’s sound.

Tombs has dialed up the black metal on this release, but at the same time become more straightforward. At turns sounding like a less-evil Watain, and at others a less-frosty Wolves in the Throne Room (especially on “Portraits”), this element is balanced with the sturdy backbone of the dark crust/sludge that was a foundational part of their core sound from the beginning. But this is no back-and-forth compare-and-contrast affair; these elements combine seamlessly. There is also much more intentional melody, as in the second track, “Séance.” The production receives a significant boost from previous efforts thanks to Erik Rutan. The drums especially are right up front, and every instrument is clear and well-articulated. Although it’s identifiable as the same band, this album sounds quite different from its previous output.

The most interesting thing about this album, though, is the undercurrent of post-punk that shows up every so often. It’s present in the melodies of “Portraits,” but features more prominently in other tracks. The half-spoken, half-chanted “Deathtripper” is reminiscent of Swans in its repetition, until four and a half minutes in when it breaks into a brooding, mid-paced blackened barrage. This track is an example of the band’s absolutely stellar songwriting. It leads right into “Edge of Darkness,” perhaps the most aggressive black metal ripper present. The intense buildup and furious, cathartic final moments are among the best on the album.

The fury continues through the next two tracks until the downbeat, gothic “Severed Lives,” that, like “Deathtripper,” is trance-inducingly repetitious. Its counterintuitive melodies and dissonances are perhaps even more unnerving than the black metal that adorns the tracks surrounding it. These kinds of unexpected, show-stopping moments of transcendence show how much Tombs has grown.

Closer “Spiral” returns to the black metal assault. Parts of it sound hopeful, as if building to some sort of triumph; but just when the resolution is in sight, jarring sludge riffs interrupt like alarms. The rude awakenings are troublesome, but in perfect keeping with the rest of the album. “Spiral” gives conclusion, but not resolution. Anything else would be a contrivance.

Tombs has really come into a sound of its own, gotten the production to match, and successfully honed its songwriting to make seemingly oppositional musical ideas work in harmony rather than in competition. Savage Gold is an astonishing work taken as a whole, due in part to the pervasiveness of a dark, twisted gloom cast over its entirety. This is a beautiful, dark, and brutal album, the exemplary consummation of a unique vision.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by J. D. Anderson
June 23rd, 2014

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