One of the leading bands of heavy music today, Tombs, released what is surely to be one of the top album releases this year when Savage Gold dropped from Relapse in June. We certainly hyped the album ourselves before we ever heard a note, including it as #1 in our “Top Albums To Watch” list for this year in January. Now at Ghost Cult we interview a ton of artists, since we find this is the way to uncover the most insights about bands that fans want to know about. Tombs front man Mike Hill is a guy we have chatted with many times, so there was familiarity there that we don’t always get to have with others. His speaking voice has a certain authority to it, not unlike you imagine a judge or an college professor has. Always generous with is time, we covered a lot of ground. At the same time Mike is a no-nonsense type of guy who takes his art very seriously, and we afforded him the consideration and respect he deserves.
Listening to Savage Gold the first thing that jumps out at you is the power, clarity and immediacy of the music. We started our chat by asking Mike about the sonic changes from the last few albums and what spurred the move in this direction:
“With the last couple of records there was a lot of atmosphere. We relied more on a lot of effects and reverb, sort of far away sounds. And I feel on a lot of the recordings especially, there was a lot of the details in the recording was lost. For instance some of the drum performances are almost inaudible because of the spacial effects and the atmosphere, things like that. So one of the things I wanted to achieve with this record, was to bring those details that were lost on the last records, like the technical playing.. all these little subtleties and bring them to the forefront. The way we achieved that was to go more minimal, and to scale back the effects. So we allowed just the performances of the songs convey the power, nothing else. In order to achieve that we wanted to clean up our sound to highlight those things. That was what our approach on the production side of things. That was exactly what we were hoping to achieve.”
We found the choice of Eric Rutan, know for his pristine death metal production work to be an inspired choice:
I think John Congeleton who produced the last album, he had a pretty big hand and definitely brought a lot to the table for that record; helping to sculpt the sound and producing a very moody album. On the new album, with this kind of production, we really wanted an articulation and a detail orientated sound.”
“Rutan is a guy I have admired for many, many years. I have been a fan of every band Eric has worked in, starting with Ripping Corpse, then his work with Morbid Angel, and all his stuff with Hate Eternal. They are all great bands. And I am a real fan of his production work, most notably his work on the Goatwhore records. The production of those particular records really piqued my interest in working with him. You can hear everything, and all of the the details are there. They are very brutal records, but very clear. That’s what gave us, sort of the idea, to move on with him. I think the combination of us working with him is a really great team. And I’m looking forward to working with this team more in the future.”
Tombs often has wide-ranging concept albums and we wondered if Savage Gold was any different. Also, we got a sense from repeated listens that this album was much more personal for the band. Hill explained:
“It’s not a concept record the way Rush- 2112 is a concept record (laughs), but yes, it is a concept record. The songs are always related because the material was written over a period of time that was everyone’s life. We were all living together during the period of time of making this album, so all those things going on with us were the themes that made it on to the record. And there was a lot of death and dying of friends and family going on around us, a lot of people in our camp. It was never our intention to write about it particularly. But that kind of environment inspired the lyrical content on the record. And you just find yourself thinking about things differently, when people pass away. This record in general is definitely a mediation on death and beyond and infinity. The lifespan of people. We looked at this borderland between life and death, and explored that idea.”
Where previous efforts by the band beat up your ears sonically only to stem the tide occasionally, the new album has a a sequence and a track flow that highlights the dynamic changes between songs.
“It’s just a natural exploration of the things we are interested in. I’m really into playing fast and brutal, but at the same time I am really into giving things space, and subtlety and expressing myself in other ways. Maybe on the next few records, I might want to explore even more with dynamics. And I would love to have more of that in the future, more things that are there to polarize to people even more. It’s all really just different sides of the same coin.”
Savage Gold is the first album with Garrett Bussanick and Ben Brand in the band. We weren’t sure how much the guys contributed to creating the new music, based on the timeline of when they joined.
“Oh absolutely, they did contribute quite a bit. The main ideas: the riffs and song structures are all stuff I wrote and always come from me. Andrew (Hernandez II) helps refine them.”
“Let’s take a look at each guy. We’ll start with Ben first: Ben’s bass playing style is a real departure in style to what we’ve had in the band in the past. Carson (James) was a really awesome, solid, tone-orientated straight ahead player and Ben is more busy. His position in the rhythm section definitely helped the band improve dynamically. And Garrett’s parts and solos definitely added a lot to to the atmosphere of the songs. All of his parts and overdubs added a lot to the sound. That is how each guy contributes to the dynamic flow in the band and on this album.”
We also asked Mike about his vocal contributions to the much talked about debut solo album from Karyn Crisis, The Gospel of The Witches:
“It’s great! Crisis was a legendary band here in New York. I really enjoyed their music and I thought they were very unique, especially during the time period when they existed in this city. I always admired Karyn’s artwork, but I never really got to know her until this project. The forces of the universe just aligned and allowed us to work together on this music. It’s been a real honor working with Davide (Tiso) and Karyn. Everything I have heard is great! So far I have only done backing vocals on two songs, but I am really looking forward to hearing the finished project when it’s all mixed and mastered and finished.”