Black metal, doom and atmospheric sludge are generally winter sport, so it stands to reason that Tombs, a band that incorporates all three into a dark post-punk inspired rumble, kick off their new album Path of Totality with a track titled “Black Hole of Summer.” This, indeed, is where sunlight comes to die. It’s a dark and harrowing album, one whose intense blasts of gothic black metal alternately crush and mystify. It’s a unique juxtaposition, some of their most intense tracks also standing as their most melodically satisfying. Suffice it to say, Tombs are a unique sort of band.
Path of Totality, produced by John Congleton (Baroness, Explosions in the Sky), is an epic album, but by no means one that indulges in excess or meanders into oblivion. The average song length is about 5 minutes, which is far more digestible than some of the band’s more progressive black metal brethren (Krallice sees your 5 minutes and raises you 7). But within each of these five-minute tracks unearths a frequently terrifying ruckus brought upon by unearthed phantoms and unhinged beasts, vocalized in a burly, albeit spectral fashion by frontman Mike Hill. And yet, on a track like the aforementioned “Black Hole of Summer,” that very ruckus can contain quite beautiful elements, recalling the likes of Jesu’s dense shoegazer sound, as if shot through a black metal cannon.
The band introduces shades of their bleaker, gothic elements on “To Cross The Land,” a slow and ominous rumbler that speeds into a fierce black metal sprint. The relatively brief “Constellations,” meanwhile, foregoes the USBM onslaught in favor of an abrasive post-hardcore instrumental that removes absolutely none of the sting. The outstanding “Vermillion” creeps along with eerie minor key riffs, erupting into blast beats when necessary, but achieving a kind of sublime peak in its tribal, Neurosis-style verses. And the slow, shoegazer doom of “Passageways” is simply breathtaking, a funereal post-punk dirge in which Hill drops his growl in favor of a more Nick Cave or Peter Murphy-inspired delivery.
The deeper into the album one dives, the greater the surprises lurk, most interesting of all the melodic, Joy Division style track “Silent World,” a triumph of stunning guitar riffs and hypnotic vocal chants. And “Black Heaven” finds the band taking a similar tack, churning out a darkly soaring melody that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Chameleons record. That Tombs doesn’t play by the rules that genre dictates is an admirable quality on their part, for the diversity that they display on Path of Totality results in seemingly one amazing surprise after another. Yet the band does have a firm grasp on their aesthetic, leaving the listener with an album that’s sometimes metal, sometimes post-punk, but always darkly mesmerizing.
Cobalt – Gin
Swans – Children of God
Neurosis – Given to the Rising
Stream: Tombs – “Silent World”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.