Album Review: Tombs – Path of Totality (Relapse)

Tombs. Photo by Jason Hellmann

Metal is a domain to which language connoisseurs should flock—not necessarily to listen to the music, but to revel in the imaginative prose that often surrounds descriptions and/or reviews of a band.

With all apologies to the countless subgenres invented to categorize indie-rock offshoots (witchhouse, mumblecore, eight-bit, and rapegaze being among the most laughable tags), no genre posits more pigeonholing terminology or outrageous hyperbole than metal. Silliness aside, such classification attempts are good for at least one reason: Proof that diversity has never been greater.

Variety is on parade throughout Tombs’ Path of Totality, at its basest root a heavy record shaded in nuance, texture, and somber atmosphere. The Brooklyn trio’s sophomore statement advances the progress shown on its 2009 full-length debut, Fear is the Weapon, upping detail, moodiness, and cohesion while sacrificing any of the surprise. Inside of 58 minutes, the band runs a proverbial gamut: black metal, crusty grindcore, revved-up doom, blackened thrash, death-metal extremism, and down-tuned sludge strains coarse throughout the cycle, which begins with a grand entrance on the level of the initial stormtrooper attack in The Empire Strikes Back and ends with a fade to black.

However, as is made evident by the disciplined playing and accomplished compositions, the band isn’t intent on addressing every major metal style developed over the past 20 years or leapfrogging disciplines to try and appeal to any hip sensibility. By nature, Path of Totality is rather humorless, yet it’s easy to imagine the members getting a chuckle over scribes and bloggers attempting to put their craft in a box. Tombs’ art is the not the sort that’s meant to be confined.

What matters here is the emotion—the senses of isolation, floundering, release, fear, suspense, and aggression evoked by shape-shifting songs and vocalist/guitarist Mike Hill’s half-intelligible drones and growls. That Andrew Hernandez’ drums sound like they should be breaking apart from the sheer force at which he’s striking them—and that the percussive sequences conjure everything from stars falling out of the sky to giant I-beams being dropped from overhead onto pavement—rounds out a set that refuses to be ensconced in historical precedent or fancy lexicon.

“Bloodletters” and “To Cross the Land” pay homage to Nordic black metal legends, but akin to nearly every sonic journey here, dare to venture down unseen rabbit holes. Unanticipated tempo changes, gothic instrumental passages, and well-timed breaks offset bursts in intensity. Light pierces darkness on “Black Hole of Summer”; on the title track, off-kilter rhythms that mimic a deejay scratching an LP precede a shotgun-firing segue that finds each snare hit arriving like an explosive ear-deadening shot, hot shells falling to the ground around the drum stool. Indeed, it’s Hernandez’ mammoth performance that holds it all together, Tombs true to its name and leading the listener through the tunnel landscapes of a yet-to-be-written steampunk novel.
—Bob Gendron

View artists website here.

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