“All Empires Fall”

Format: EP

Label: Relapse

Release Date: April 1, 2016

“All Empires Fall” marks Brooklyn-based band Tombs’ fourth release on the Relapse label since 2009 and is a great fusion of their previously established sound style, which blends elements from post-punk, black metal and industrial music sounds. Produced with Tombs by the renowned engineer Sanford Parker, the EP is their first to feature keyboardist and vocalist Fade Kainer (Batillus, Furnace) and a lineup including guitarist Evan Void and drummer Charlie Schmid, of Hivelords and Vaura, respectively.


The sounds each bring to this release with founding member, guitarist Mike Hill, and bassist  Ben Brand seem, on the whole, evocative of what one may hear from latter-day Ulver, Neurosis and even gothic bands like Bauhaus, thanks to Hill’s occasional low, clean vocals (which stand as great companion pieces to his harsh, blackened howls) and the danceable, 4/4 rhythms interspersed seamlessly with the blast beats and syncopations heard through some of the songs.


In the introductory track “This World Is Made Of Fire,” searing, thrumming frequencies and bending, synthesized pitches combine with dimly articulate bell sounds, creating a compelling atmosphere that leads into a mid-paced and proper instrumental headbanger. At two minutes, forty-one seconds, it’s short but powerful.


In “Obsidian,” Tombs commences to blast with vicious focus and its tremolo guitar rhythms place one in a right context to understand that, at core and despite the band’s unique variations, this is indeed black metal. There are galloping rhythmic transitions but they return quickly again to the central sound theme, which is accentuated by the dark-sounding keyboard work. Mike Hill’s screamed vocals are raw and, while aggressive, seem very human-sounding, making for an emotive and relatable experience.


On the EP’s third track, “Last Days Of Sunlight,” we hear Hill’s gravely romantic singing style overlay this dirge of an interlude. Here, Tombs takes brief respite from the driving fury established in the previous track, letting easy, tribal rhythms from the toms, both delay-laden chugging patterns and melodic, guitar work mix with deep, chamber-style vocals, and a darkly soothing soundscape flows through the speakers.


For “Deceiver,” the band lets its post-punk and gothic muses shine clearly with their heavier pedigree. In its beginning, a simple, steady drum rhythm and rich, heavy bass reminds one of Dead Can Dance or Throbbing Gristle, but soon gives way to a good, mid-paced headbanger that is as danceable as it is enormous and aggressive-sounding.  Hoarse, rasping blackened vocals combine with much larger-sounding and deeper roaring  through the hooks in this song, and there is a softer, sung-spoken vocal interlude (credited to Sera Timms) which prefaces a short yet efficient rocker of a guitar solo. This one concludes sharply and quickly but leaves a lasting impact.


Finally, in “V,” the EP’s fifth track, the band allows for its clearest combination of all the musical stylings established before it. Steady double-bass patterns carry the slower parts and the vocals return again to that style somewhat reminiscent of Peter Murphy creatively merged with a mighty, metal force. There is more fascinating heaviness in this song, perhaps, than in the others on this release, but, altogether, the complete picture in sound is inspiring, enjoyable and makes for easy headbanging.   


There is an eclectic variety of influences that guide this group’s musical aesthetic but they don’t clash or make for a confusing combination: this band is experimental, and truly so, creating post-black metal from unlikely sources that denies easy genre classification and allows this group to continue to stand well apart from the pretensions that, many times, accompany the term. It’s a very good EP that clocks in at just under twenty-eight minutes, leaving a somewhat brief but very effective impression of the band’s progress and awesome potential.


 By Richard Jaspering for Death By Metal STL, May 8, 2016


Buy Tombs’ “All Empires Fall” from Relapse Records or the Tombs Bandcamp: