(Andy Synn steps into the fray to try and uncover the truth about the new Tomb Mold album)
If there’s one thing I think we can all agree on it’s that the amount of excessive “hype” that goes on in the more metallic ends of the media spectrum – from professionally written puff-pieces to overly-effusive amateur tweet-fests – has gotten pretty silly.
Every new album is “album of the year”. Every new band is “the saviour of Metal”. And so on, and so forth.
It sometimes seems like there’s just no room anymore for the sort of nuanced, constructively critical analysis that would actually add something to the conversation. Everyone’s just out to be the first to market with the hottest take or the most fawning regurgitation of the provided press materials, which makes it difficult to get a clear or honest picture of things.
And when the buzz around an album is as deafening as it was about The Enduring Spirit it can be even harder to know what, or who, to trust.
I suppose, so as not to keep you all in suspense any longer than is necessary, I should start out by saying that yes… all the hype around this one really is justified.
Okay, maybe not all the hype (some folks always go so overboard that’s it’s impossible for any band to actually live up to what they’re saying) but even I – as cynical and as jaded as I’ve so clearly become – have to admit that Tomb Mold have absolutely earned all the attention and acclaim that this album has already garnered.
That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, by any means (truth be told I don’t think the perfect album actually exists) but it is, quite clearly, the band’s best work yet – which, considering I selected Planetary Clairvoyance as one of the top ten albums of 2019, is certainly saying something – and the sheer excess of riveting riffs, mind-bending leads, and complex, creative drumming (Max Klebenoff putting in a career-best performance behind the kit on every track) makes it pretty much impossible to take in everything that The Enduring Spirit has to offer in just one go.
And while some listeners (and reviewers) appear to have been shocked by the album’s more outlandishly proggy approach, to my ears it still feels like a natural extension and evolution – albeit, perhaps, a slightly larger than expected evolutionary leap – of the sound they’ve been developing ever since their debut (and makes even more sense if one also takes into account Derrick Vella’s work with Dream Unending… although, as I’ve stated before, my feelings about that particular project are slightly more complex than most).
It’s not, to be clear, that Tomb Mold are doing anything entirely new here by any means, as the roots of songs such as electrifying, unpredictable album opener “The Perfect Memory” or the dizzyingly dynamic “Flesh as Armour” can easily be traced back to the likes of Pestilence, Atheist, and Death (outstanding closer “The Enduring Spirit of Calamity” in particular feels like the sort of creatively boundless Prog-Death epic that Schuldiner and co. might easily have gone on to create if things had turned out differently).
Nor are they the only band out there right now with one foot planted in the past and one stepping forwards into the future (the upcoming new Afterbirth album, for example, pursues a similar – albeit slammier – approach to combining gnarly Neanderthal-boned riffs and proggy, post-Human melodies).
But, ultimately, what makes The Enduring Spirit such a stand-out release – especially in a year which has, in my opinion, been dominated by a lot of strong, but relatively safe, new releases from across the global Death Metal scene – is the way in which it takes and twists so many supposedly familiar elements and influences into such strange and unexpected configurations.
And if, very occasionally, the band’s attempt to fuse their “extreme” and “experimental” inclinations don’t always fully take (truth be told, some of the proggier lead parts in the second half of “Fate’s Tangled Thread” never quite sit right or add any extra substance to the track no matter how many times I hear them) these moments are far outweighed by the shamelessly proggy unpredictability of tracks like the fearlessly melodic “Will of Whispers” and the ecstatic orgy of riffs which makes up “Servants of Possibility”.
There’s no question, of course, that The Enduring Spirit is pretty much destined to be a divisive album – for every ten people who vibe with its indulgently weird wavelength there’s bound to be an equal number who feel that it is indeed over-hyped and overrated – but, then, oftentimes the best ones are.
All I can tell you is this – more than pretty much any other artist operating in their particular musical sphere (and there’s at least one or two names that immediately spring to mind) Tomb Mold actually do deserve the hype. And, more importantly, they keep on proving it – pushing their own boundaries and challenging themselves to grow and evolve with each new release, no matter how long, or what form, it may take.