[8 July 2014]
Though it will undoubtedly seem to some like an evolution, Savage Gold, the newest from Tombs, feels like an endpoint to me. Not for the band, of course; this Brooklyn blackened death group undoubtedly has bigger, brighter (darker?) things ahead of them. Rather, Savage approximates an extreme metal endgame, pushing the music into increasingly intricate, brutal, and downright boring forms. Everything about this album is an improvement over its predecessors, but I can’t stand listening to it.
Tombs has entered into something of a Faustian bargain, with improved musicianship and profile in exchange for anything resembling entertainment value. The first certainly shows, with the band expanded to a four-piece and laying down some of its fiercest riffs, Mike Hill’s guitar coldly clattering against the mark-time drums of Andrew Hernandez II, professional and clinical. When Tombs exercises its goth tendencies, as on standout “Severed Lines”, the band members weave and buckle around each other, each part balancing every other. On the faster numbers, Erik Rutan’s production, though so devoid of bass you wonder whether every major tragedy in his life was soundtracked by “Big Bottom”, isolates every part, sometimes propelling the band forward and at others sapping its momentum, leaving songs with a floating feeling.
And this is a cold, dead album, apparent from the first set of pinched minor chords. “Thanatos” puts a clutch of slowed down sludge riffs against Hernandez’s jackhammer drums, finding a modicum of excitement in the juxtaposition. It is probably the last moment of this album I unequivocally enjoyed, before most of the remaining 53 minutes bored me. And at this point, is there anything duller than a standard blastbeat/tremolo lead? I am aware that Tombs work on a level above standard black metal bands, but the songwriting on Savage Gold rarely shows it. These feel like collections of badass riffs and polyrhythmic beats but without true development or drama. Hill shuttles along from idea to the next without distinction or evolution. Thus, when one song ends and the other begins a listener has no connection to the song they just heard, because it’s already out of their mind. Rutan’s antiseptic mix certainly doesn’t help things on this front, cleansing every part of anything resembling dynamism until Savage becomes one pitch-perfect slog.
Again, this is not because Tombs is a band band or Savage a bad record, only that both indulge the worst tendencies of the extreme tag, crafting a thoroughly unenjoyable album that leaves this listener unwilling to give it another shot. It might sound strange to describe something so deliberately heavy and dark as joyless, but that’s the word I keep coming back to. Of course the band doesn’t intend for this music to be enjoyed in any conventional, consonant sense, but I can’t help believing this leaves it totally devoid of actual purpose. Rather, Savage is embroiled in an extreme metal arms race, each new release striving to be the heaviest, fiercest, most, well, extreme, thing on the market. Tombs may be one of the best bands in that lineage, but count me out if the music is this uninspiring and bland. In this race to the bottom no one wins.