Tombs are a tough band to categorise. They grind through the gears of black metal, post-metal, post-punk, and hardcore with impressive ease, often merging multiple styles together into a deliciously unholy union. This conflict between styles is their strongest asset, and means that whatever the band release is guaranteed to be an intriguing listen.
‘Under Sullen Skies’ is the Brooklyn based miserablists newest opus, their fifth work of bleak, harsh, and oppressively majestic heaviness. Their music is spare and despairing, a howl from the void that feels especially contextualised by the sorry state of affairs that is the year 2020.
What’s most engaging and engrossing about ‘Under Sullen Skies’ is watching what Tombs conjure up as they move between their generic influences, and because black metal is so singular in its form, this mode of their musical language is the most immediately striking. ‘Lex Talinos’ is the most technically audacious track on the album, almost approaching Deathspell Omega or Krallice levels of head-spinning, avant-garde black metal chaos. Then ‘Barren’, which begins with a more straight-forward Mayhem or Immortal style stretch, reaches towards something more poignant and post-metal influenced.
The black metal mode of Tombs also stretches into their lyrical content. Images of lightless voids, unfathomable cosmic horrors and landscapes (both literal and internal) shrouded in darkness all abound on ‘Under Sullen Skies’. For a band that hail from one of the biggest metropolises on Earth, there’s little specific reference to the urban landscape, which is a slight shame, as you feel that Tombs‘ craft could become even more unique if this angle was further explored.
However, away from the black metal, their music does possess something of an urban, street-wise aesthetic. Stripped down and gritty, it has an almost industrial (with a small ‘i’) quality to its muscular, grinding machinations. ‘Secrets Of The Black Sun’ is minimal and eerie, building palpable tension through its creeping first half that bears a post-punk, modernist gleam; the soundtrack to being stalked down a shadowy, echoing back alley. ‘Sombre Ruin’ is even scarier. A cumbersome, staggering dirge, it recalls early Swans or Godflesh, and is the climax of the movie, the awful denouement where the killer has chased you down into the subway, and there’s nowhere left to run.
This schizophrenic conflict between genres is ‘Under Sullen Skies’,/b> greatest feat. Every style that they perform is engrossing and technically accomplished, yet you get the feeling that the more menacing, eerie side is Tombs‘ strongest and perhaps truest form. The black metal stuff is fun but not especially singular, yet the dirg-y, ominous dread of their more post-punk inflected tracks is really startling and stays with you the longest after its finish.
‘Under Sullen Skies’ is another strong statement from Tombs, and probably their finest album. Yet you get the feeling that they’re uncovering more and more about themselves with every release, and that their most powerful work is still yet to come.