Put simply, 2011’s Path of Totality was an earth-flattening slab of sludgy, atmospheric, hefty blackened metal with a slight hardcore tinge. But underneath Tombs’ crazily appealing sound was a secret: they wrote real, interesting songs. As if upset that their compositional skills take a backseat to their primal exterior, the band hired Erik Rutan to give third album Savage Gold a clinical clarity, stripping away much of the atmosphere. While this will be the most immediate trait to long time listeners – and possibly the source of ire for a few – it will quickly become secondary to the realization that the band’s songcraft keeps advancing within their musically-adept-yet-unhinged framework, and that they are still one hungry group of dudes.
Tombs’ greatest asset is their utter inability to sit still. Little variations in guitar melodies – such as picking style or a switch-up from tremolo line to an outright chug – add greatly to the overall energy, while drummer Andrew Hernandez is a shape-shifter, making constant changes in both style and rhythmic attack and using Rutan’s clarity to turn blast beats and ride cymbal clinks into the taps of maniacal machinery. Mike Hill also remains a beast behind the mic, screaming, growling, and half-singing in a range of tones – he sounds almost Valborgian during “Echoes” – and always making sure to up his articulation when the stage is his to own.
All of this serves yet another collection of meticulously constructed songs—songs that show perhaps more variation and depth of dynamics than anything the band has done previously. Plus, from a purely wicked grin standpoint, “Ashes” shows that they are still the kings of dropping the goddamn hammer at a moment’s notice.
That said, Savage Gold is not without a few minor missteps. Most notably is the new foray into brooding, lighter-yet-menacing material during “Deathtripper” and “Severed Lives.” While both tracks hint that Tombs has a wider vision planned for the future, at this time these ideas are only about half fleshed-out. Coupled with the near hour runtime of the album, and the initial feeling is that at least one of these tracks could have been cut. But that’s the initial feeling…
The odd, and wickedly cool dynamic about Savage Gold is that in spite of the flaws, it still works great as a full album. So much of this depends on track order and placement as much as the quality of the songs themselves. Opener “Thanatos” – that rarity that works well as both an intro and actual song – fittingly leads into “Portraits,” which then is followed by the ever-so-slightly more intense “Séance.” By design, none of this shows Tombs at their most vicious. In fact, if the aforementioned “Deathtripper” serves a real purpose, it is to precede the beastly “Edge of Darkness,” the first track in which Tombs does just let loose. Likewise with how the lighter “Severed Lives” is necessary to arrive at the album’s epic closer.
So in that way, you could say that Savage Gold is functionally imperfect. Path of Totality also had some minor bumps, and yet remained an absolute scorcher of an album, so this might just be how Tombs operates. Considering the hefty and numerous musical rewards – not to mention that (golden) savagery – our ears will be lucky if they continue this way.