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Back So Soon: Tomb Mold’s “Planetary Clairvoyance”

tomb mold

Boy, that was fast.

Tomb Mold already blasted our ears off well and thoroughly last year with the immaculate Manor of Infinite Forms and will deliver very soon a follow-up full-length called Planetary Clairvoyance. Two of the songs, of course, appeared on the Cerulean Salvation EP earlier this year, imbuing Planetary Clairvoyance with the feeling of a short writing session that proved more immediately fruitful than anticipated (and was then released while everything was still fresh); there’s no sense on this album that the band sat down and forced a record out. Rather, the pieces seem to have fallen into place one by one.

Discussing the structure and origins of Planetary Clairvoyance, while necessary for a thorough review, isn’t as interesting as the music itself. Tomb Mold has proven themselves an interesting band in how they have so closely mirrored (in archetypal form) another great contemporary death metal group: Horrendous. Both groups started with absolutely nasty demos, delivering wet, sickly, and lo-fi death metal but with the same early sophistication of groups like Cynic in their demo days or some of the more musically adventurous and progressive early Finnish and Swedish death metal bands like Dismember. Both groups released debuts that were in keeping with that spirit but with spruced-up production, hitting a fine modern approximation of that classic Morrisound Florida timbre and tone.

But it was on the sophomore records for both groups, the all-time great Ecdysis in Horrendous’ case and Manor of Infinite Forms for Tomb Mold, that they spread their decaying progressive wings. In both cases, the music was both clearly progressive and technical without falling into the cliched traps of prog and tech-death, genres that have undeniable classics and contemporary fruitful work but also their own fair share of eyerollingly tedious cliches. Instead, both Ecdysis and Manor of Infinite Forms stayed crusty, gnarly, gross, retaining the element of nastiness that a group like Dismember or Nocturnus kept even at their most outlandish and experimental, remembering always that this is progressive death metal.

Planetary Clairvoyance, then, is the slight lean-in toward the advances made on Manor of Infinite Forms. It is both more progressive at times, featuring the same winding song structures with repeated riffs being used sparingly to really punctuate a phenomenological return to those previous affects, and more primitive and gross, that pivotal death metal element. This grossness is what makes the group so satisfying, both over their discography and here in particular; it is also this precise lack of grossness that makes similar excursions in more technical, progressive, or melodic death metal sometimes fall flat, stripping death metal of that necessary intrinsic core of nastiness. The songs on Planetary Clairvoyance spill over like effluvia, wet and grainy and disgusting, with nary a clean vocal to be heard. The slight cerebral/psychedelic sci-fi bent of their previous record is highlighted more extremely here, between album title, obligatory Giger-esque album art, and the occasional clean guitar break to really sell the outer-world qualities of these songs.

As satisfying as they are, though, it is hard to shake the fact that these came so soon after Manor of Infinite Forms. As a result, this album feels not quite its own object, while also too differentiated to feel fully a related object to that previous album. It is trapped in terrible limbo, possessing strong songs and a valiant attempt at an individual identity that doesn’t quite work. Still, the band is on a hot streak and it is undeniably better to have received these songs than not; unless something outlandish happens over the next year or two, it’s becoming increasingly likely that they will unleash a high-minded cerebral psychedelic death metal record on us. Every album of theirs inches them closer to all-time great status, a position comparable group Horrendous already holds; Planetary Clairvoyance is just another stone on that path.

It is worth noting as well that while a general sense of frustration with old-school death metal being the resurgent and “in” style right now is justifiable, this being similar to the waves of blackgaze, post-metal, and sludge/rock fads before, the songs Tomb Mold produces both in general and on this album are of high enough quality that the album would fair well even if it were released in the late 1980s or early 1990s. They are not merely aping a style and producing a derivative; they clearly known not only the ways in which death metal bands of that era built upon and developed their central motifs but also of the influences on those groups, producing the syncretic development anew. The thing which sinks so many fad bands aping older styles is that they replicate the thing they love directly, like a photocopy of a copy of a copy of a copy and so on, while smarter groups like Tomb Mold look back at what led to those styles or records and internalizes those themselves. Besides, album closer “Heat Death” is perhaps the greatest death metal song of the year.

A band this good isn’t just rehashing an old beloved. They are contributing. They are capable peers. They are worthy. The haters are wrong; Tomb Mold continues to prove why they are beloved.

Planetary Clairvoyance releases Friday via 20 Buck Spin. Check out an early stream via Kerrang!.

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