(NCS supporter Black Shuck answered our call for guest posts with the following review of the debut EP by Tombstalker from Lexington, Kentucky.)
Hello, boys and ghouls. You may or may not remember, but a year or so ago I wrote a little piece on bands from Kentucky. One of those bands was named Tombstalker, and I’ll be reviewing their self-titled EP for you today. So sit back, relax, and enjoy as I fling my poo at the keyboard, much like the noble chimpanzee, and call it writing.
I included a stream of the EP in last year’s write-up, so if you listened to that you’ll have some idea going in of what this band sounds like. If you didn’t listen, or if too many nights sitting at home drinking to forget have erased most of your long-term memory, this will be a somewhat more in-depth look at the record.
Tombstalker are a mix of extreme metal and hardcore punk, describing themselves as “hammer crushing death crust.” While Anton Escobar’s vocals run mid- to low-range, which could be indicative of death metal influence, the EP has much more of a black metal feel to me. I mentioned their “grimy” atmosphere in the earlier piece on them, and coming back to this record a year later, that is still a large part of what makes it for me. The production is suitably low-fi; while not quite as stripped down as, say, early Darkthrone, it still doesn’t really look like they bothered with any sort of sleekness or polish, which is absolutely a strength of the album.
I don’t usually have any problem with lots of production, and I don’t agree that it necessarily makes an album “soulless” or “machine-like” or anything. But Tombstalker is an EP that needs to be rough around the edges. Moments like the opening riff to “Ocularis Terribus” or the recurring crust riff of “Supreme Veneration of Death” would completely lose their punch without the guitar fuzz. I recognize that this is probably also due to their punk influence, but as I am far more familiar with black metal than crust, that’s what my mind immediately jumps to.
Not that it’s only the production that makes me think of black metal. An aura of darkness permeates this album. With a name like Tombstalker, it could hardly feel like anything else. Part of it is the riffing. Some truly hellish riffs appear on this album (“Ocularis Terribus” and “Bastard Warriors” are chock full of examples). Part of it is the vocals. As I mentioned in the piece last year, Escobar’s vocals are seriously evil-sounding. Staying mid-range for the most part, his rasping growl drips bile and hate, and does far more for the atmosphere than high shrieks or deeper gutturals would.
And the final part is the bass. It can be easy to miss, as is sadly the case in most extreme metal, but man, would you notice if it were gone. Take, for example, the breakdown beginning at 1:31 of “Supreme Veneration of Death,” one of the best moments on the album. It’s a hell of a riff, but it’s made all the better by Chuck McIntyre keeping up a thundering low end as it plays, making sure the aura of doom is not lost for one second.
The constant deep bass sound in the background, along with everything else I just mentioned, especially helps maintain the atmosphere when the guitar work moves toward a less dark sound. I generally don’t like anything that even resembles melodic metal, but it’s infectious enough here to keep my attention. In fact, it was “Lecherous Aeon,” probably the most melodic song on the record, that helped hook me onto this band. I even caught myself humming one of the riffs a couple days ago. Another reason why I think those kinds of riffs work is that they don’t overwhelm the album. In fact, there’s a really good balance between darker, lighter, and just plain crusty music here.
I don’t know a whole lot about drumming, so I’m not entirely sure of everything that’s going on in that regard. But I will let you know that d-beat drumming abounds (or, at least, what I think is d-beat drumming, I could seriously be entirely mistaken), with a couple excellent blasting sections and some well-placed double bass thrown in. So…yeah. Me likey (truly, what thoughtful, deep explorations of music I write!).
I would definitely recommend this album to anyone who likes their music rough and dirty. It’s up on Bandcamp for a pay-what-you want deal. Tombstalker are working on a full-length album called Black Crusades, which…brings me to some sad news, actually.
A few months ago, some low-life, scumsucking squirrel-diddlers robbed Tombstalker of the money they had saved up to finance that album, which was a considerable amount. They have been forced to start completely from scratch. So, if you liked the EP, and want to see the full-length come a little bit quicker, they are taking donations. Go here if you’re feeling generous.
Ladies and gentlemonsters, this concludes our review. Please disembark using the exit to the left, and have a pleasant day.