There’s much to be appreciated in an EP that is both concise and satisfying, a concentrated form of expression that doesn’t bother to stuff itself to the brim with uninspired filler. Formed in 2007, black metal project Tombs has been putting out music on a steady and unabating schedule for more than a decade, comprised of EPs, full-length albums, splits, and compilations. Formed by vocalist and guitarist Mike Hill, Tombs was always meant to be an outlet that operated without any suffocating constraints that would hinder his creative process. Following in this frame of mind with newest EP “Monarchy of Shadows,” Hill proves himself once again as an artist that sees black metal as a malleable expanse of pure potential.
Tombs’ early years earned them a number of accolades, including earning Decibel’s album of the year in 2011 for the brutal intonations of “Path of Totality.” Though black metal has always been the roots that have held Tombs together, Hill has proven himself entirely unafraid of experimentation, flirting with death metal alongside goth and avant-garde touches. Similarly, Tombs has been home to a number of talented musicians throughout the years, with “Monarchy of Shadows” boasting three guest artists in addition to the four core artists. But rather than have its constantly rotating cast serve as a hindrance, Hill has used the many gifted hands that have graced the ever-fluid soundscape of Tombs to grow the band’s ambition year after year.
For “Monarchy of Shadows,” ambition has been redefined through adopting the members of New Jersey death metal band Kalopsia into its fold, giving Hill assistance in the songwriting process where most of Tombs’ prior work was derived solely of his own imagination. Meshing the native tongue of death metal with Hill’s abstractions of black and post-metal allowed the dark, dissonant grit of “Monarchy of Shadows” to emerge in a tapestry of emotion and slow-burning fury. Synthesizers and touches of urban punk rear their heads as two distinct genres of extreme metal fight for dominance, tied together by the enthusiastic melodies contributed by two fiery guitars.
In all of their aggression and their newfound strength, Tombs never fails to hook listeners with delectable riffs and harsh vocals that draw the unsuspecting in with a vengeance. “Dark Rift” is one such track, slow to mount, but infectious in its appeal. Inhuman shrieks pique as the song’s speed ebbs and flows, vocal variations changing the atmosphere from anguished to haunting as each verse flows into the next. Similarly to third track “Necro Alchemy,” Justin Spaeth’s drums are an immovable backbone that threatens to tear the guitarists apart as much as it ties them together. Sometimes chaotic, sometimes driven with pinpoint focus, Spaeth’s influence on the songwriting is clear in a near constant cacophony of cymbals and crashing thunder throughout the duration of “Monarchy of Shadows.”
Despite being just six tracks long, “Monarchy of Shadows” sees its fair share of diversity. Speed may be one defining factor among many, but funerary touches that seem to be purely doom-inspired also have their place in this new era of Tombs. The opening to title track “Monarchy of Shadows” is filled with cinematic, echoing static, pulling the listener right to the edge of their seats as they wait for madness to unleash. Marching along in a slow, atmospheric pace is the outro of “Man Behind the Sun,” giving respite in more concentrated vocal deliveries and discernible touches of bass in deep, resonating tones.
Given the collaboration with the members of Kalopsia, there is no way to deny the introduction of a new direction to Tombs’ work. Death metal and black metal work together in stunning form, which Tombs highlights across the horizons of “Monarchy of Shadows.” However, both styles occasionally clash in such a way that has conflicting interests: at times the speed of the album drove away from the heart of the dissonance, trying to force down fire and ice in the same scalding breath. There is no question that the songwriting was enhanced by the addition of an already cohesive unit of performers, combining two vastly different sets of experience. Yet sometimes the very chemistry that led to the momentous epic of title track “Monarchy of Shadows” led to a less-precise development of atmospheric context than some of Tombs earlier work.
As always, Hill has shown himself to be inventive, bold, and enthusiastic about the future. Having thrived in the underground for close to twenty years, Hill continues to cement a legacy that is consistently aggressive as well as imaginative. Concise and down-to-earth, “Monarchy of Shadows” is a concentrated dose of metal’s razor-sharp fury.
Released By: Season of Mist
Release Date: February 28th, 2020
Genre: Black Metal
- Mike Hill / Guitar, Vocals
- Justin Spaeth / Drums, Electronics
- Drew Murphy / Bass, Vocals
- Matt Medieiros / Guitar, Vocals
“Monarchy of Shadows” Track-listing:
- Monarchy of Shadows
- Once Falls the Guillotine
- Necro Alchemy
- Man Behind the Sun
- The Dark Rift
- Path of Totality (Midnight Sun)
Fans of black metal will find themselves at home within the walls of death-infused “Monarchy of Shadows,” an album that plays with the light and shade of American death metal in the context of dissonant anger. Delivered in a concise, hard-hitting EP, Tombs shows off their more vibrant stylistic strengths with another step forward in their perpetual evolution.