Tombs - Under Sullen Skies review

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Band: Tombs
Album: Under Sullen Skies
Release date: November 2020

01. Bone Furnace
02. Void Constellation
03. Barren
04. The Hunger
05. Secrets Of The Black Sun
06. Descensum
07. We Move Like Phantoms
08. Mordum
09. Lex Talionis
10. Angel Of Darkness
11. Sombre Ruin
12. Plague Years

In 2020, Tombs released what is, for my money, a strong contender for their finest record. That record wasn't Under Sullen Skies, but this is a perfectly good album too.

Shortly before the world retreated into lockdown, I gave Monarchy Of Shadows a very positive review, noting that the recruiting of several members of the death metal group Kalopsia by Mike Hill had given Tombs a new lease of life, with the combination of black, death, doom and sludge resulting in a concise and deadly package. I assumed that would be the only Tombs review I would write this year, but I was excited when Under Sullen Skies, a full-length album with the same line-up, was announced for later in 2020. Now that it's here, it's not quite the killer realization of that Monarchy Of Shadows sound that I was hoping/expecting, but there's still a fair amount to like here.

I feel like it might be best to get the reasons why I'm not as keen on Under Sullen Skies out the way earlier before moving onto the good stuff. I've always somewhat liked without really truly digging Tombs, but Monarchy Of Shadows rose above their previous albums for me with the number of great memorable riffs it had, breakneck or more measured, as well as the effective doomy atmospheres it could deliver and the consistent quality it had throughout. Running nearly twice as long, Under Sullen Skies has more time to slack, and it doesn't deliver that constant excitement; in general, it lacks riffs to rival the best of those on Monarchy Of Shadows. This is partly down to it taking a slower approach overall; there are faster black metal songs, and they're some of the stronger ones here ("Barren" in particular), but even those have solid stretches in more mid-tempo black n' roll territory, and for large stretches this is a mid-tempo, somewhat sludgy, somewhat doomy album. That isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but it does take away something that I thought made Monarchy Of Shadows really great, and the atmospheres or rockier riffs they deliver in these slower tempos don't quite bring enough to compensate; there's nothing here to rival the intense atmosphere in the slower conclusion of "The Dark Rift" from Monarchy, for example.

Now that I've got that out the way, I can start talking about what is here, and what is good about it. The black metal riffs aren't quite "Once Upon The Guillotine" levels of ripping from the EP, but "Bone Furnace", "Angel Of Darkness" and "Barren" do bring some good stuff, the latter almost leaning towards pagan metal-style chord choices. At the other end, the slow, brooding heavy metal cuts like "Void Constellation" and "The Hunger" do have a fun swagger to them; the latter, at least vocally, has a lot of High On Fire and Motörhead to it. Towards the sludgier end of the spectrum, "Mordum" is the drumming's chance to shine, with some nice ominous tom work early on before the band delve into some murky riffs. There's also some interesting diversions from Tombs here, moreso on the lengthier tracks; "Secrets Of The Black Sun" is the doomiest song here, and starts off very threadbare, gradually layering and intensifying as it progresses, whilst "Plague Years" jumps around from frantic blasting, to trudging doom dirge, to mid-tempo brood, doing them all similarly well. "Sombre Ruin" is probably the strangest cut here, 4 minutes of a glacial drum beat, distant vocals and unstructured guitars. On an album that is a bit too long for the ideas it contains, it could maybe be cut, but it's a somewhat intriguing detour.

I don't think Under Sullen Skies is a notable dip for Tombs or anything; it's comparable in quality to Savage Gold whilst also being a bit more accessible. The main things detracting from it for me are the comparisons with Monarchy Of Shadows and the relative lack of killer hooks, but the songs are generally rather enjoyable and suitably varied, so it's definitely worth a listen if you've liked the band in the past. For me, it's probably a case of Tombs returning back to the level of interest I had for them at the start of this year.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 7
Originality: 7
Production: 8


Written on 23.11.2020 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments: 1   Visited by: 49 users
24.11.2020 - 10:16
Enemy of Reality
As for me, i think this is their best album to date. The only thing i dislike is the length of some songs (and by consequence, of the album), stretched beyond necessary. Other than that, there are so many banger riffs on this, that Slayer would be able to make 5 albums out of it better than Repentless.

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