I think I finally found an instance when it’s cool to use the term avant-garde. If any band falls under that most radical of musical distinctions it’s probably going to be Tombs with their fourth full-length, The Grand Annihilation (Metal Blade). I suppose Atheist or Candiria could be filed under avant-garde as well, but that’s a discussion I don’t want to find myself in, particularly with the metal élite.
So what places Tombs in the bleeding edge of subgenres? Well for starters, ever since their breakthrough 2011 album, Path of Totality (Relapse), I haven’t been able to pin them down to one style. If you had to put it into a category it’s some vicious beast that lives between frosty Black Metal and weary post-Metal with just faintest hint of Thrash. Also worth mentioning is that Tombs are Brooklyn natives and that has to up their experimental rep.
And that refusal to accept the status quo leads to jams like ‘Saturnalian’, which is equal parts Enslaved and Bauhaus and yes, it is a very listenable and dare I say catchy tune. ‘Underneath’ sounds like if Robert Smith tuned down and decided that The Cure is now going to be a Doom outfit. And just when you let your guard down and accept the weariness, you are immediately hit with the blackened frenzy that is ‘Way of the Storm.’
If you’re into the more savage stuff, ‘November Wolves’ draws in the heavier bits from Metallica standards like ‘The Thing that Should Not Be’ and ‘The Call of Ktulu.’ ‘Old Wounds’ is another tightly wound spiral of abrasive rhythm guitars and slicing leads.
Tombs’ off-kilter alchemy unfortunately falls short on the underdeveloped ‘Walk With Me In Nightmares’ and ‘Shadows At The End Of The Earth.’ And in both these instances the songs aren’t bad, but just fail to draw in the listener as completely as their predecessors.
The Grand Annihilation is an odd, but punishing journey that works well despite its various parts. Metal is a strange genre, let’s keep it that way.