Brooklyn based experimentalists Tombs have been climbing their mountain of success for nine years. In that time, they have yet to find the proper footing as a foundation for their ascent. Across three full-lengths, a few splits and a debut EP, the band has relied on aggression, pacing and bravery to convey their vision. Yet those releases, for all their daring and commitment to outside-the-box thinking, have never felt like complete works. Moments of brilliance, and certainly hints at directions in which the band could go, were apparent, but editing always presented a problem. Songs carried on for far too long and themes were too quickly abandoned in favor of flourishes. After changing their lineup, Tombs went back to how it all began with only their second EP in nine years. With All Empires Fall they restart, recharge and re-envision their sound with a new lineup. The result is a work that delivers in tangible and audible results rather than mere potential. There remains the odd misstep, but the album closes strong, offering a vision into what is hopefully the future for Tombs.
Throughout their career, Tombs has shown a penchant for the gothier side of metal, at times affecting a Greek (e.g. Nocternity) feeling to their gothic ballads. While these tracks revealed potential and some quality songwriting, they often fell flat. It was in 2014 that drummer Charlie Schmid replaced Andrew Hernandez II, Evan Void stepped in to fill the second guitar vacancy and, most importantly, the band added Fade Kainer on synthesizers and backing vocals. The changes immediately paid dividends for their live performance. The added synthesizer/keyboard is now a centerpiece of the Tombs sound. For example, the final three tracks on All Empires Fall, particularly “Deceiver” and “V,” reveal a band steeped in gothic foundations. The ability to combine the sorrow of early My Dying Bride with their own brand of somewhat Americanized sludgy experimental black metal results in a step in the right direction toward a unique, consistent and focused sound.
For all their gothic underpinnings, Tombs is still a sludge-laden, experimental black metal band, and the majority of All Empires Fall reveals just that. Opening track “The World is Made of Fire” revs up with sampling before exploding in post-hardcore Mantar-like groove, glory and double bass. The track is short – under three minutes – which is something that has not long been a hallmark of Tombs. Despite not having vocals, it’s a scorcher with the lead riff dropping into full headbang mode. It’s a prime example of what Tombs can do very, very well. Ultimately, this track functions as a lead in for “Obsidian,” which is a more classically black metal composition. At just over five minutes, “Obsidian” can feel monotonous at times, but when contrasted with the heavily gothic final three tracks, that error is somewhat forgiven. Followed by the mournful and serene “Last Days of Sunlight,” the black metal openings and the goth closings of All Empires Fall are all cohesively sewn together, in no small part due to the clean vocals, experience with programming and the synth work of Fade Kainer (who appears to be the missing link in Tombs’ current success.) Unlike the minor failings and pitfalls of Tombs 2014 LP, Savage Gold, All Empires Fall puts forth a solid effort across the board that highlights the band’s black metal influences without suffocating their experimentation and darker side.
For a band that has historically left the listener wanting more delivery, hoping that the band could finally put their experimental thinking together with a solid, consistent foundation, All Empires Fall is a revelation. The questions that arise are provided by the lyrics rather than a lack of musical cohesiveness. Merely rooting for a band to succeed isn’t enough if the band doesn’t take the necessary steps to hone their craft. It may have taken nine years, but All Empires Fall reveal a band at ease with its position in the metal scene. A band that is finally on solid footing and ready to reach the pinnacle of their potential. While All Empires Fall may not represent the summit for Tombs, it certainly helps the band re-energize for a rush toward the peak.