American Tombs is a very productive band: since its foundation in 2007 the band released four longplays, four EPs and a couple of split albums. In 2020 another EP Monarchy Of Shadows was released then a live album Abraxas Ritual: Live In Chicago and in the end of the year Tombs release their fifth longplay album Under Sullen Skies.
Actually, such productivity isn’t surprising at all: the band’s mastermind, guitarist and vocalist Mike Hill was never sit around, releasing the albums for his various music projects, recording podcasts and doing many other things.
Tombs’ line-up can be also called stable (probably); at least the same musicians that worked on the band’s last EP also worked on a new album – drummer Justin Spaeth, guitarist Matt Medeiros and bassist Drew Murphy. They also play in Kalopsia, Death Metal band from New Jersey. Besides this, lots of guest musicians can be heard in Under Sullen Skies: Ray Suhy from Six Feet Under delivered a great solo in “Barren” and in “The Hunger” you can hear Dwid Hellion’s vocals from Integrity (which reminds Lemmy’s vocals pretty much). Ides Of Gemini‘s Sera Timms embellished “Secrets Of The Black Sun” with her voice and Cat Cabral made insightful spoken word in “Angel Of Darkness”.
Under Sullen Skies is probably the most diverse album in Tombs‘ discography. US Black Metal, Doom, Death Rock and even some Gothic elements, which add some feeling of doom to this dark music, are still present here but in this album the band reached some definitely new level.
The opening “Bone Furnace” with grim Black Metal riff, muffled vocals and fast drums sounds depressing and wicked, while the second guitar adds some melody to the song. The same thing happens with “Barren”, which suddenly goes almost Heavy in the middle and “Void Constellation” reduces the tempo and sounds more Doomy with Mike Hill’s ominous vocal.
However, this is only the tip of the iceberg because further Under Sullen Skies starts to unfold, showing some unexpected facets and opens new layers. “The Hunger” suddenly starts with synths and some uncomplicated melody, which changed with almost Thrash guitars, smooth drums and quite simple riffs. “Secrets Of The Black Sun”, long and atmospheric, easily immerses the listener in its darkness, where male and female vocals alternate. “Descensum” grows from it seamlessly, also starting with Doom but later turns into Black Metal with some twang riff. “Angel Of Darkness” is also incredibly atmospheric, but here is more ire and less grief – keyboards create an atmosphere and guitars with drums pour all the dark and evil on the listener. “Sombre Ruin” reduces the tempo again, going Doom Metal, not mournful but rather sinister.
“Lex Talionis” starts in a brutal way: rigid Death Metal intro changed with Black for a short time and then comes merciless Blackened Death, where pace is changed a couple of times with the main theme but rigidity and brutality stay during the whole song. And in the ending “Plague Years” musicians tried to transmit all the diversity of their music in a concise manner, turning this song to a quintessence of the album in a way.
Endlessly dark but diverse and multilayered at the same time, Under Sullen Skies is certainly the highest point of Mike Hill’s songwriting talent so far. Mainly inspired and created with all that happened this year, Under Sullen Skies can easily become the soundtrack of the ending 2020: dismay, gloom, depression and even some kind of hope to see the ray of light in this tunnel, all of this can be heard and felt in Tombs‘ music. It’s a great and deep work.
Under Sullen Skies was released on November, 20 via Season Of Mist.
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