There won’t be a challenging listen anytime soon from millennial metal bands. The best we can hope for is something engaging, because given how neutered the general public is today, most things, “underground” or not, will be geared with mass appeal in mind. When we as seasoned listeners encounter a new metal band we approach their newest release with the hope that they at least have some framework of metal history at hand to draw from in order to at least give their inherently gimped effort a palette of direction that resembles metal. But with that mass appeal looming in the back of the creator’s mind, that history may be utilized as a checklist for social acclaim to adorn empty musical gestures instead of a well to draw inspiration to guide a commanding voice. Those type of Frankenmetal releases are easily dismissed as a series of “Ta-da!” moments wrapped around a rancid kernel, but by blunting the confrontational elements of disjunct pieces you can somewhat pull the wool over the listener’s eyes as if you are more steadfast in your artistic message than you actually are.
Tombs is such a band that appears to have a strong foundation of metal history and displays a bit more focus than most newer post-black-whateverthefuck bands. But despite the main criticism of newer acts cluttering their compositions with unnecessary adornments to push the idea of achievement before message, the lack of content that Tombs dictates in The Grand Annihilation renders the release to be overwhelmingly innocuous and forgettable. The overall approach seems to be a merging of the style At the Gates cobbled together on At War With Reality with whatever The Lurking Fear was despite the fact that Tombs has been a band since 2007. While I haven’t heard their previous releases to compare, one can assume that what you can gather from those references is that what you’ll hear here is not very inspired and ultimately quite directionless. They do develop themes well and understand tension as you’ll hear the same theme progressed across simple chords to tremolo-picked single-note variations to actually build toward the idea of song which is an undeniable strength, but the themes are often too pedestrian to carry each song declaratively and leave the mind as soon as each song concludes. Occasionally you will encounter fairly unique key changes but they feel almost too “Ta-da!” when you become familiar with how they structure the bulk of the record, where the most basic progressions advance the majority of the material. The entire first track is built around the minor-sixth interval, popularized among the million At the Gates clones as the cheapest way to liven an overarching melody, which achieves an inward melancholy that imbues my introduction to the band with a sense of defeat than makes the rest of the record difficult to approach in a metal sense. Putting one’s prejudices aside, you will still encounter the checklist of superficial metal tropes that assuredly will garner the social acclaim expected of a band like this- Tomas Lindberg impressions interspersed with Attila croaks to give that vague occult vibe that enamors the uninitiated, obvious chorus parts that echo the worst of Moonspell, and quasi-hardcore power chord lurches that no doubt provide the hooks needed to keep undiscerning heads banging. The most unique and memorable idea on the whole record is the 8/8 to 6/8 time signature changes in “Way of the Storm” but the fact that anything like this happens only once on the record gives it more of an accidental flair than a theme that should anchor the song with purpose.
While this may seem like a scathing critique, the record is far too benign to be truly accountable- to condemn the band is really akin to smothering an infant over spilled milk. Nothing related to the structuring of the material is truly offensive, and the only cringeworthy moments are the unfortunate crystal-clear diction of the vocals, which highlight the unbearable lyrical cliches littering every song. This is not something uncommon to almost any metal band, but here it’s as if certain phrases were culled from a metal-phrase-of-the-day calendar and some of them are downright laughable. There is a nice development of an overarching theme between “Walk With Me In Nightmares” to “Saturnalien” but it’s immediately derailed by the embarrassing Attila impression over it which kills the focus of the listener where a trance-like stupor could have been successfully achieved. This is perhaps the most concrete representation of the record as a whole- hook-laden material that could be a successful pop-metal formula rendered fruitless by the choices that artistic inexperience provides. The record peters out in an impressionless whimper that echoes the bulk of the material, and there is no depth to warrant multiple listens. It comes and goes as easy as a Flintstone vitamin in the morning, only possibly more digestible.
So given that the best you could hope for in a modern band is an engaging listen, Tombs doesn’t satisfy the needs of the attention-span deprived youth or the discerning experienced metalhead looking for timeless material. As a record, The Grand Annihilation simply is, and given the criminally offensive releases of most current bands, that may just be its best quality.