Tombs have always been a band of interesting mixtures. Combining several different types of metallic goodness (black, doom, post-metal, etc.), as well as various musicians coming in and out for seemingly each new project, the band has become borderline impossible to categorize, very rarely sitting still long enough to revel in whatever iteration they currently exist in. This is often an indication of discord and listlessness in a band, but Tombs have seemed to make it work. Particularly with their previous album, Savage Gold, the band seemed to be firing on all cylinders. It was a cohesive, consistently bludgeoning and artfully structured album that ended up being one of my favorites of 2014. With their latest record, The Grand Annihilation, Tombs seeks to replicate many of the aspects that made Savage Gold such a rousing success. They accomplish this feat with potent (albeit somewhat mixed) results.
Let’s jump back to that mixtures part again. An important feature of this latest album is its lineup, which differs significantly from that of the band’s previous record. Leading man Mike Hill has always been the heart and soul of the group, but sheds musicians from his band fairly frequently. This time around, he has added guitarist Evan Void and drummer Charlie Schmid, essentially restructuring the band entirely. But such change isn’t a bad thing, as the musicianship on The Grand Annihilation is just as strong as it was on Savage Gold. Album opener “Black Sun Horizon” exemplifies this new set of musical skillsets brilliantly, and leaves little doubt that Tombs are back with a vengeance, unleashing a black metal hailstorm of blast beats and deep tremolo picking that is as exhilarating as it is expertly performed. But Tombs are not a band to sit still, as they quickly incorporate some post-metal riffing and a uniformly more measured pace as the track comes to a close. Additionally, a new production aesthetic is present on The Grand Annihilation, as the drums and guitars rumble and bludgeon with a heavy, almost sludgy approach. All of the hallmarks of the Tombs sound are here, and the opening track is a welcome return to form.
On the whole, this album is at least in part a tale of two halves, which serves as a slight impediment to the overall structure and feel of the album. This division is less apparent as the first few songs on the record set fire to all in their path. The Grand Annihilation’s second track, “Cold”, lurches forth from a doom-laden womb with extremely heavy and deep riffs layered over Hill’s commanding and forceful vocal performance (which is, as always with a Tombs record, one of the highlights of the album). The change in pace between these opening tracks feels very natural, as the heaviness present within each creates a thematic through line that supersedes the somewhat jarring differences in tempo between the two tracks. Jumping back to the fast paced brutality unleashed by the album’s first track, “Old Wounds” is drenched in black metal motifs that dominate throughout the duration of the track (including a fundamentally brain-destroying bridge and solo that will have heads banging and fists swinging), while the epic “November Wolves” brings nearly seven minutes of atmospheric and heavy chugging that incorporates a mid-tempo thrash vibe that absolutely rocks. It’s around the track “Underneath”, however, that the fluid transitions between tracks of varying tempos and songwriting techniques become less engaging and impactful.
The two halves of this album referred to above are not necessarily meant to indicate the front and back halves of the album (though the former definitely contains more bangers), but rather two songwriting aesthetics that compete with one another throughout the album. Starting with “Underneath”, and continuing throughout the album in tracks like “Walk With Me In Nightmares” and “Saturnalian”, the album loses some of its potent momentum with tracks that feel repetitive in structure and rather toothless compared to the albums more electric fair. That is not to say that mid-tempo tracks are a bad thing in a metal record, as that would be entirely untrue. Such tracks are not a net negative by virtue, but on this record they definitely have a noticeable impact on the pacing and initially crushing and propulsive trajectory of the record, and not in a necessarily positive way. This frequent changing of pace and heaviness toward the latter half of the record provides less than stellar returns, somewhat diminishing the overall experience of the album as a whole.
To be frank, that’s honestly the biggest criticism I have of The Grand Annihilation. If you’ve liked any of Tombs’ previous records and enjoy the band as a whole, this one will not dissuade you from that opinion. Tombs is back with a punishing new album that is chock full of excellent tracks that are varied, expertly performed, and will make you want to jump directly into the nearest pit of sweaty metalheads. Slower, oddly placed tracks aside, this is an enjoyable record and worthy of your time and attention.
The Grand Annihilation was released on June 16th. You can use the link above to purchase it via the band’s Bandcamp.