Tombs

Path of Totality

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From the swells of arcing sound that kick off "Black Hole Summer" -- the kind of song title that puts together familiar tropes in a just distinct enough way, much like the band's work itself -- Tombs initially seem to demonstrate their approach as working in pre-established ways on Path of Totality. Given guitarist/vocalist Mike Hill's previous work as well as earlier releases under the Tombs name, it's almost tempting to say this is the album that best encapsulates all his approaches in one place. But better instead to see it as a continuing refinement of a collection of impulses that shows the depth of 21th century metal, one that acknowledges bleak, slow-building masterpieces from the past without aiming to re-create them. No song is longer than seven minutes, but the sheer weight of build on pieces like "To Cross the Land," starting with a stark guitar line that relentless transmutes into a crushing full arrangement, is breathtaking, an effect recurring on songs like "Silent World." The deep-voiced chanting on "Passageways" and elsewhere contrasts the rougher work from Hill through most of the album, shading the compositions with an even doomier feeling. At its best, an individual song on the album feels like it could soundtrack a version of Game of Thrones that is nothing but bleakness without recompense, all shadows, betrayal, and undiluted power. It's perhaps appropriate that the song "Bloodletters" fulfills this brief perfectly, but "Black Heaven," with its cannon-shot drumming and sheer exultant, tense power, may be the winner on a strong album through and through.

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