Brooklyn’s TOMBS had quite the 2011. Their third full-length “Path of Totality” garnered tons of praise and landed on numerous ‘best of’ lists, their album was streamed on mighty NPR, and if that wasn’t enough, they even influenced KORN’s latest Nu-Metal/Dubstep album.
Even with all this percolating underground hype, a question beckons: is it really as good as the pundits claim?
While “Path of Totality” is no easy listen, and certainly not the first album choice on a blissfully sunny morn – think more dusk, raving Heathcliff and cloud-covered heights – the scope of the album, both intimate and cavernous, reeks of daring experimentation; an adventurous climb in a direction that may not be a smooth nor comfortable ascent, but rather one starkly resonant and disturbing. Although the album has a very daring feel to it, it also sounds exceedingly within itself; just one of its many polarities.
TOMBS sound unusually raw yet modern, a band intent on purging itself through a multitude of Blackened soundscapes that orbit the suffocating nuances of Sludge and Doom. Chaotically precise ala ULCERATE and tolerantly moody like NEUROSIS or ISIS, TOMBS are very much an amalgamation of heaviness and subdued complexity. The band does a solid job of opening a window for its listeners, even if what they ultimately find on the outside is too great or frightening to bear.
TOMBS’ depiction of emotionally unstable Post-Black Metal mixes melody with overwhelming dissonance. The tropes of Black Metal are there, but conversely, they’re used as a foundation for the considerably dense bottom sound and varied riffs to follow. Succeeding Mike Hill’s tortured roar of “Chaos Reigns” in the album-opening “Black Hole of Summer,” the advent of the record’s thematic solar-eclipse charges forth with Hill’s eerie guitar work and the absorbing drumming of Andrew Hernandez.
As furious and dark as “Path of Totality” is, it's no surprise that losing yourself inside its unlit passages is not difficult to achieve. There’s a hypnotic, trance-like effect over the majority of the album; most notable during the back-to-back-to-back tracks of “Vermillion” and “Passageways” and “Silent World,” a trio of thoughtful and oppressively bleak daydreams (or nightmares depending on how squeamish you are). Hill’s guitar has an ethereal Post-Punk vibe and Hernandez’s drum sounds as if they’re being smacked in another plane of existence, within earshot but also curiously distant. Carson Daniel James’ bass play is exceptionally creative and fluid, adding much-needed fullness, character, and weight to a record that leans heavily on Hill’s searing and somber guitar lines and Hernandez' crackling cymbal crashes.
As strong as the initial half of the album is - with the most traditionally rocking “Constellations” and the thundering “Bloodletters” - it’s the latter portion of the record that's most impacting. “Black Heaven” has a number of interesting style and structure changes, the album highlight “Red Shadows” offers more of Hill’s impassioned vocals and a memorable bass-heavy jam session, and “Angel of Destruction” is a fitting sendoff with its methodical transition from a surging intro and crushing riff play to its exhausted and weary finale where Hill’s quasi-chanted lyrics portray one final chance at redemption.
While the album’s biggest flaw is its accessibility, its creation was likewise not meant for the easily amused. There’s a very dark and cerebral approach to the music that has rightfully impressed many a website and magazine, and while this reviewer can’t claim it as the year’s best or heaviest album, citing “Path of Totality” as one of the year’s most primal and consuming recordings would be no great stretch. Not for the faint of heart.
(Online January 14, 2012)