Friday, June 8, 2012

Tomb - 鳳凰絕 (EP) (2012)

It's getting easier and easier to refer as a band as being "ambient" in some way, though the word itself seems to have lost all meaning. Tombs, a Chinese band who are identified as "ambient black metal" seem to be anything but. Their new EP, "鳳凰絕," which translates to "phoenix will be dead," is a singular song that incorporates a whirlwind of genre influences, from black to doom. A single track encompasses the entire EP, with this twenty four minute piece broken down into several different, but clearly distinct passages.Whether or not they fit together, or flow as one cohesive piece is another story entirely.

A softly repeated clean guitar riff forms an extended intro to "鳳凰絕/百合," a beautiful piece of minimalist work that shows off the true draw of simplicity. As the full band enters, you don't lose that sense of sorrow, or darkened melody. Instead, they build upon it, adding layers and forming a more solid and defined sound. But with this addition comes a vocal track that does, at times, lessen the impact of the instrumental. A poorly recorded set of screeches and howls forms the vocal track, a choice that seems odd given the style of music being played at this moment. As the sound descends into a more chaotic black metal assault, it all starts to make sense. Now that harsh screams of pain fit in, but the complexity and depth of sound has vanished. What you are left with is a jumbled mess of riffs, drums, and growls that meld together in a brick of distortion.

It is here that the production faults come to light, with a very raw mix that seems to give off the notion that this was recorded inside a dumpster. Every passing scream and riff crackles through your speakers, without a single distinct note to be heard. Yes, the machine gun snares are audible, and punishing, but their constant roll is all you can discern. Even as the song takes a foot off the gas pedal and reverts back to a ore simplistic and singular sound, there is a noticeable difference in the tone. The tempo slows, and the vocals take on a deathly sound in small doses, an inherent sense of evil lurking. That quickly shifts to a sullen mood complete with a passing thunder storm, one that seems to give the perfect opportunity to fade out, and return renewed. Somewhere in that storm, the band find their inner doom, coming back to life with a heavier sound, a more rigid one. This is where the band shines, despite poor audio quality. A simple guitar melody repeats, but carries the song forward, while a screeching vocal does wonders when placed properly. All of this gives way to silence, followed by a drone outro of distorted guitar chords, echoing into nothing.

Much like Pest Productions labelmates Vallendusk, Tomb is not a one trick pony. Throughout the course of twenty four minutes, they give you a different styles, different tones, different tempos. However, thanks to a poor bit of recording, some of those subtleties go by the wayside, lost in a sea of crackles and pops. No, the mix isn't completely to blame for their shortcomings, but it takes some of the stronger points on the album, and knocks them down to mere garage band status. The upside is there, but it is going to take a trip back to the drawing board to make "鳳凰絕" into something the world is ready to hear.


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