[Album Review] Tombs Celebrate Old School Black Metal With 'Monarchy of Shadows'

At the end of 2019, Brooklyn’s post-metal powerhouses Tombs signed to Season of Mist, after a brief stint with Metal Blade Records, who released the band’s fourth full-length The Grand Annihilation in 2017. The band has hit the ground running in this calendar year, releasing the six-song EP Monarchy of Shadows in February, as well as a live album, Abraxas Ritual: Live in Chicago, in April. Now, as their fifth album Under Sullen Skies is set to be unleashed this Friday, it’s time I make good on a promise I made to review the EP, which serves as a sampling of the post-black viciousness which the band has perfected for over a decade.

The title track starts off with synths from guest Terence Hannum for the first minute and a half or so, before the band comes in with a scorched-earth assault and an essential black metal vibe. Soon, the track goes into familiar territory for the world’s most vile genre, with blast beats galore and an esoteric air. Vocalist Mike Hill’s use of death growls rather than shrieks is a calculated decision that bucks tradition in the best ways. The last minute and a half is a mid-tempo fist-pumper with a triumphant feel and a delightfully simple lead break to boot.

“Once Falls the Guillotine” falls more into the death metal subcategory, albeit blackened. The tremolo picking is fast and furious to start things off, and the pace rarely falters. Even when a breakdown looms, things are still crushingly heavy, with a heavy picking hand and monstrous riff construction. The whole affair leaves as briskly as it came in, with blast beats sending this scorcher on its way before the blast beat-tastic “Necro Alchemy.” The bridge goes from a black metal barrage to a death metal chugfest, and such griminess is oh so welcome in this track.

“Man Behind the Sun” keeps the black metal faith, offering a more or less straightforward composition with Hill’s vocals swapping between death growls and the occasional clean-sung low tones adding an unsettling and uncanny bite to this affair. The drumming from Justin Spaeth switches from blast beat assault to double kick mayhem at the drop of a hat, and his details within the doomier, sludgier sections of this track in particular set him apart from many metal drummers in the game.

“The Dark Rift” barrels in with huge riffs and a sweeping feel. Powered by a persistent double kick and the odd mid-scream, this starts off heavy, before wandering back into familiar blackened territory. The string section, headed up by Ben Karas, adds a power and weight to the finished product, with a dual guitar harmony later in the track lifting up the mix just that little bit more. Finally, we end on “Path of Totality (Midnight Sun,” with some nice blast variants in its intro. The second half dips into sludge territory, with more palm-muted goodness and blackened brutality to close out the EP proper.

Monarchy of Shadows is available now via Season of Mist.

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