Tombs – Path of Totality

Posted on July 2, 2011

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6/7/2011

Never mind that the cover of their sophomore full-length bears more than a passing resemblance to Through Silver and Blood, or that guitarist/vocalist Mike Hill slices off a killer piece of Matt Pike-ish riffage on instrumental jam “Constellations”; Tombs have finally shaken the remainders of the Neurosis and High on Fire comparisons applied to their self-titled EP and much vaunted 2009 Relapse debut, Winter Hours. Like pretty much every second record in the history of forever, Path of Totality is a more definitive, mature statement from a band finding its own sound. The whole “sludgy black metalgaze” label critics have been attaching to them is still relevant, I guess, only everything is a hell of a lot more balanced this time around.

I wasn’t as gaga over Winter Hours as the majority of the underground/independent metal, whatever-you-want-to-call-it community was. It was frontloaded, jumbled, and frankly, flat-out boring at times. Tombs’ decision to not open Path of Totality with an instantly accessible barnburner like “Gossamer” is the source of the album’s improved pacing over its predecessor. Instead, we get “Black Hole Summer,” a pounding, scorched Earth destruction derby. No big refrains or stylish shoegaze breakdowns in sight. The Brooklyn trio makes us work for those hooks now, so when we do unearth them, we’re rewarded with delicate tastes of those precious truffles. “Silent World”’s push and pull between Southern sludge and rollicking double bass is only the setup for a brief but dramatic transition, tiny sheets of melody buried underneath mountains of reverb. Where they would crack us across the jaw with a burly riff or roiling tom cascade, Tombs allow for a natural expansion and contraction of the space, nothing forced, nothing to prove.

Which isn’t to say they’ve nixed going for the throat altogether, as “Vermillion” picks up where “Beneath the Toxic Jungle” (the second best song from Winter Hours) left off. All blast beaten muscle and swift picking interspersed with Hill’s hypnotic chants and gruff bellows, the song represents everything Tombs have worked to establish in their fairly young career: tension and release; power and restraint; drama and humility. Its entire last minute examines a band at critical mass, delirious feedback punctuated by kick-snare patterns driving deeper into the mix with a zealous fervor. And it’s in the middle of the record, made that much more dynamic by its placement after the chugging, dissonant title track, a matching one-two punch that forms the fulcrum to the lumbering doom bookending the duo. Once again, history proves as prescient as always, and Path of Totality is another in a long list of follow-up efforts that sees a band crafting an album as opposed to a collection of songs.

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