Path of Totality isn't the album I was expecting from Tombs; this is a good thing. The band enlisted John Congleton (Baroness, Explosions in the Sky) to produce the LP, and I somehow imagined they'd depart for softer, fuzzier aural climes. Instead, Path of Totality is bursting at the seams, seething with a ragged, radiant heat that pushes deep into the red. John Congleton has captured the band's intense live energy, allowing their percussive ferocity to shine. Thankfully, the volcanic production doesn't obscure Mike Hill's consummate songwriting or the tormented emotions he lays bare. Those grievous sentiments find expressive outlets in several new vocal approaches; Mike Hill's voice elevates Path of Totality into sublime realms.
Winter Hours was an essential LP that still commands my attention. The album was a crucible of noise, sludge, black metal and hardcore effulgence; Path of Totality doesn't tamper with its predecessor's unique, vital chemistry. On this newest effort, however, Mike Hill digs deeper into earthen tones, tapping into veins of riffage that gurgle with sodden, sedimentary resonance. John Congleton pays meticulous attention to guitar tone, allowing Mike Hill to paint landscapes with viscous mudflows and seething sonic slurries.
Path of Totality is filled with compelling, primal riffs and engrossing songwriting. Pummeling avalanches of noise are interspersed with moments of melody that are at turns dissonant, haunting and sorrowful. As we learned on Winter Hours, Mike Hill is just as comfortable with tremolo picked, blast beaten sprints as with ponderous, sludgy pugilism. Several tracks at the back-end of the album step away from abject heaviness, turning towards melodically experimental but no less harrowing composition. Other tracks revel in monstrous groove; “Constellations” rips into a galloping thrash that elicits an unfailing response from my neck.
The album is a faithful testament to the live Tombs experience. Andrew Hernandez and Carson Daniel James are given ample space to reproduce the tectonic, ravenous energy they leave on stage. Carson Daniel James's crepitating bass lines feel like organic growths on these songs, contributing to the album's sweltering geothermal corona. The precipitous production enables us to feel the pain Andrew Hernandez is inflicting on his drum kit. Every song on the album is imbued with surging momentum and fascinating rhythmic curiosity.
The lyrics are apocalyptic, mournful musings that Mike Hill conveys via growling, screaming, semi-singing and amphoric chanting. The man's deep voice is utterly distinctive, and he deploys these diverse vocal techniques with a gripping urgency. “Silent World,” in particular, reminds me repeatedly of the Mystics from Jim Henson's freakish classic 1982 movie, The Dark Crystal. Awesome.
Path of Totality is an album into which I'd like to sink; this is the sound I want to be buried in. The music is carefully wrought but never over-baked. Its twelve tracks are a shining example of economical, exacting and focused songwriting. High replay value. Dig it.
Path of Totality is out today on Relapse Records. You can stream the entire album at NPR.org.