Review: Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
Shuddering in deep space.
For some bands, it takes years before I personally enjoy them but when it happens the build-up has been ripened by years of expectation and gradual improvements. Toronto’s Tomb Mold were a familiar name to me four years ago when their debut demo, released when they were still a duo, began circulating around the metal end of various social media sites. While I liked their savage filth-caked sound on a very visceral level I found it lacking on a few other fields and Primordial Malignity didn’t really fix them either. Warp forward to 2017 with a two-song promo for a monumental 2018 sophomore (now featuring a full line-up) and the unrefined promise of their origins saw them rightfully enthroned as one of the new gods of traditional death metal finding a way to put a subtle but far-reaching spin on genre conventions. How would they top the monumental doom-tinged semi-bluesy hammering swagger and carefully paced structures balancing immediacy against unfurling structures however? The former has actually been toned down and the latter raised a few notches and while it was a notable part of Manor of Infinite Forms, the band’s similarities to Finnish styled death metal now push themselves to the centre stage and injects an even meaner sense of crunching riff-driven intensity to their already pummeling sound.
The most obvious change to Tomb Mold’s sound is that there’s a lot more in each song. Manor… for all of its sense of grand scope and colossal Dark Souls/Bloodborne inspired fantasy was not a particularly complex album. The band had a great grasp of how to use a relatively small number of riffs but position each one perfectly and out of them draw a great deal of mileage. While they aren’t cramming a Liers in Wait degree of bits and pieces into Planetary Clairvoyance, the sound is considerably fleshed out with a wider range of guitar playing, tempos, and technique. This results in a comparatively more frenetic delivery allowing the band to juggle a not-insignificant level of details in each track. Even better, they unleash an even more aggressive, punchy, crunchy sound that might not have its predecessor’s booming vastness but this leaner sound gives each instrument a better degree of sharpness and definition perfect for communicating their increasingly eldritch science fiction themed horror. As previously stated, their sound leans even closer to the swampy realms of bands such as Demigod, Shadows of the Past era Sentenced, Abhorrence, Convulse and occasionally even Demilich with a pre-requisite level of Bolt Thrower styled kick-drum single string notes for good measure. However compared these Canadians have a chunkier attack with a lot more riffs stringed together as well as more blast beats, dipping into the doomier waters of Finland’s signature style but careful not to fully inundate themselves into the festering mess. You could still put them under the same stylistic umbrella but Tomb Mold’s style manages to find many ways to distinguish it from its influences.
While this added complexity means more to keep track of, Tomb Mold still know how to ram a cluster of finely tuned death metal riffs straight through both ears. The band base their songs around lengthy chains of riffs one after the other and gradually transitioning between them through mounting tension being used to prepare for transitions. It’s a straightforward style that works quite well and here they build upon that with a number of sharper and more vicious bits that frequently jut out and help to divide and elaborate on broader bombardments of crushing chords. The songs are a little harder to follow but by no means over-engineered or ultra-layered and reveal many interesting surprises. “Infinite Resurrection” unleashes an out of the left field Nespithe style fragmented upper-register riff that completely changes the song’s direction, “Accelerative Phenomenae” does an amazing job of using midtempo riffs as branching points and leads to some impressive soloing, and “Planetary Clairvoyance (They Grow Inside Pt 2)” has an utterly bonkers midsection with weirdo lead harmonies and minigun fast blast beats. At times they skirt the edge of the Blood Incantation and Zealotry thresholds of mystifying science fiction inspired horror and unease even if only for fairly fleeting moments but it demonstrates a level of creativity int heir sound that you would not often expect of bands associated with old school mindsets. It’s something I hope to see hear more of in future releases given how these tend to be band’s most intensive and gutwrenching moments to date.
Unfortunately, the songwriting also experiences a number of inconsistencies with this broadened scope. While there are more riffs, not all of them are always winners with the more understated Bolt Thrower riffs sometimes making their sound unusually reserved and others almost padding out some sections as they lead to some of the more dynamic guitar work they’re capable of. The problem with having these more dynamic riffs right next to these more plainclothes one is that the juxtaposition makes the plainness stand out more and their increased creativity can’t really hide that on repeat listens. More disappointing is how the album ends with “Cerulean Salvation” and “Heat Death” featuring drawn out doom portions that clash with the shifty and segmented approach of the rest of the album. The former doesn’t suffer from this as much due to how it uses these to give way to an excellent guitar solo but the actual doom part does feel somewhat perfunctory with its hovering reverb-munching chords awfully stock sounding for the band. “Heat Death” has an entirely instrumental first part that does an incredible job of creating this snowballing sense of soul-erasing dread and once more, their lead guitar playing works its wonders. Then the rest of the song rolls out and you’re left with an outright lazy set of long ringing chords that plod on with fairly little change other than some cleaner notation layered above it. It’s awfully anticlimactic and ends up feeling like the sort of riffs they might normally use to space out higher energy ones unnecessarily stretched out. Ending it on a lengthy outro of creepy ambient droning and synth tones makes one wonder if they could have just used a separate outro track.
While it doesn’t topple the mountain of corpses that was Manor of Infinite Forms, Planetary Clairvoyance does progress a number of elements that were key to its success. In expanding on and adding to an incredibly strong foundation, not all of the new concepts necessarily fit and even when they do, it’s not consistently either. However, you can detect hints of something far more deranged and monstrous hiding around these non-euclidean corners that perhaps promise a far more malevolent and merciless Tomb Mold that could give the same kind of soul-shriveling unease more avant-prog oriented genre practitioners specialize in in a far more feral package. While the album’s ending duo, originally from a promo earlier this year, do the best job of pointing out its shortcomings they do not come off as lost causes as much as lapses in judgement. There are moments with a bit of tinkering these very weaknesses whether they unusually dragged out portions or simply lightweight riffing could have become strengths as they made it clear they have the ingenuity to defy a number of genre and style expectations. In spite of this mixed bag end result, this third offering still sits atop the remains of much of its competition this year as even where it fumbles other bands would collapse and shatter. I’m hopeful however that they can single out the strongest points of this album, excising the areas where it falters, and create the truly monstrous slab of horrific space-borne death that we all deserve.
Planetary Clairvoyance releases July 19th. You can preorder it here.