02. Golden Eyes
03. Beneath The Toxic Jungle
04. Great Silence
05. Story Of A Room
08. Filled With Secrets
09. Seven Stars Of The Angel Of Death
10. Old Dominion
2009 Relapse Records
These are bleak times. 2 million jobs vanished in four months. Homes stand vacant and repossessed across the country. Strife within and between nations with nuclear weapons makes the possibility of nuclear holocaust seem inevitable. I can think of no more suitable soundtrack to this living rendition of Mad Max than Brooklyn, NY's Tombs. Consisting of ex-Anodyne axe-wielder, throat-shredder Mike Hill, the band revel in the sort of existential dread that served as manna for Neurosis during its formative years. There's a sick desperation in the overall tone of Winter Hours- as if the band heard the death rattle of Western civilization and learned how to replicate it. The agony is palpable, the anger blinding. This is the sound of America in 2009, a nation suffering interminably in her winter hours. It's a grim landscape and Tombs paints its portrait well.
Following musically on the heels of 2007's Tombs EP, Winter Hours fleshes out and explores the sounds and themes begun there. The production is light years ahead and perfectly transmits the band's live sound: guitars that roar like bears, a bass throbbing like a power line about to explode and drums crashing and careening as if the drummer pounds away at gunpoint. Indeed, it's close in style to Neurosis. Yet Tombs somehow take the rancor much further.
The pounding opener "Gossamer" reveals Tombs' skill at crafting anthems of despair, with down-tuned guitars and harsh vocals erecting an impressive aural swell. A squealing delayed guitar line rings ominously throughout, recalling Rowland S. Howard's tortured guitar work in The Birthday Party's "The Friend Catcher." "Merrimack" is even more harrowing, weighty and destructive. The guitars sound as thick as bomb shelter walls. They bring to mind criminally forgotten New Jersey band Nudeswirl, who utilized hollow body Gretsch guitars to summon similarly ungodly levels of feedback.
"Filled With Secrets" begins with a riff reminiscent of Depeche Mode's "Introspectre." That may seem an absurd comparison, yet both bands possess an uncanny knack for expertly harnessing misery. The song then careens into a lurching section. A grind segment follows, only to cave back into a welcome swinging heavy passage. Everything disintegrates into a creepy-sounding ultra down-tuned guitar part.
Tombs find time to speed things up, as on "Golden Eyes" and "Beneath the Toxic Jungle." It makes sense to inject quicker tempos to balance out the cement-block thud of much of the record. Yet grind doesn't seem to suit them as well. Several songs feature rather awkward grind and black metal tempos welded to slower jams. Perhaps it's because their heavier moments achieve such sublime levels that their speedy forays lack adequate punch. Winter Hours, though soul-crushingly heavy, is uncharacteristically drenched in dark melodies. It is that which makes Tombs special; they master musical alchemy, able to turn loud, noisy chunks into memorable shards of gold. Though many have tried, few bands so successfully broadcast what it sounds like to rot within the belly of the beast.
Bottom Line: When Hill howls "These are final days of our decline," you believe it. The music backs up that apocalyptic outlook. While clearly indebted to Neurosis and Joy Division, Tombs produce a record that successfully marries both.