For many, metal is a love or hate kind of genre. I think a huge part of this polarization is due to the harsh and off-putting death growls that, in part, define the style. While aggressive instrumentals can often retain widespread appeal, there is something about the human voice summoning the ugly shrieks of an inhuman monster that is an automatic turnoff for most. Mike Hill of the Brooklyn-based experimental metal band Tombs certainly growls like a beast on their third studio album Savage Gold, but he does so in an enunciated fashion that is progressive and approachable. You can clearly understand just about ever lyric on Savage Gold which is an incredibly novelty in the muddled vocal world of metal. Here, Hill’s vocals are crisp and smart. With black metal meets doom instrumentation and overarching lyrical themes of consciousness, death, and the mortal coil, Savage Gold is an impressive evolution in sound for Tombs, and a very solid metal record for 2014.
“Thanatos” starts the album off strong with a savage double bass backed blast-beat from Tombs drummer Andrew Hernandez, accompanied by a massive scale-climbing riff from the rest of the band. Immediately, we are introduced to Hill’s morbid dreamscape of existential themes: “Does the soul remain / does the sprit die / when the flesh decays / does the will prevail.” It is fitting that “Thanatos” is the name of the daemon-personification of death in Greek mythology.
Because of heavy metal’s growled and often unintelligible vocals, it makes for an easy copout for artists of the genre to write lyrics of mediocre (or worse) quality about the same stale themes. This is not the case on Savage Gold. Hill ensures the listener’s understanding of his funereal philosophies with brutal precision. Songs like “Edge of Darkness” use the morbid weight of the lyrics in conjunction with dropping in an out of instrumental intensity to great effect. “There lies a golden bridge / beyond this world of light / cross into the dark / find the great unknown.” This somber-sung section is accompanied by slowed down melodic sludge that transforms with meticulous execution back and forth from explosive blast-beat driven power riffs.
For the majority of the album, Tombs keeps things engaging with an unrelenting assault of fast-paced tracks that tend to feel shorter than they actually are. The first four songs blend together perfectly, making it a hard album to put down once started. Only with the fifth track, “Deathripper,” do things slow down a bit. Hill employs more hushed and croaky spoken-style vocals for this one and gets into some more heavy death-centric themes: “I can’t stop the dream / of blood and suicide / It’s a one-way street / you’ve already lost.” This is about the only song that doesn’t seem to work as well as the rest for me. However, the slowed pace serves it function as a short intermission before resuming the assault. It also makes the follow up track “Edge of Darkness” extra explosive and hard-hitting.
In “Echoes” we hear: “Fear lives inside forever / let it fall / let it slip away / mortal we will remain / life so fragile / mortal remorse / we will remain.” Death is one of the most natural human anxieties. A theme explored in a range of different art mediums for as long as art has existed. Any medium that can successfully explore this inherently heavy topic, and alleviate this ancient anxiety (if only slightly) is the mark of powerful art. With Savage Gold, Tombs does just that. A dark and brutal study of one of life’s cruelest certainties, but one which diffuses some of that mortal fear in it’s morbid and ultimately cathartic observations. As for Tombs, I hope ‘they remain’ as well, and look forward to seeing more from their progressive development in the American experimental metal sound. Savage Gold is a strong step in the right direction.