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Fire, brimstone, and interstellar travel - 92%

Valfars Ghost, October 11th, 2019

These days, there’s not a whole lot of new death metal that seems genuinely threatening. More intense than anything in the mainstream, sure, but people who’ve been regularly exposing themselves to this sort of thing for years are often hard-pressed to find recent death metal releases that seem truly monstrous. Planetary Clairvoyance, the latest from young Toronto outfit Tomb Mold, is one such album. The band’s third full-length is a dense, molten slab of intensity boasting a smoky, brimstone-infused flavor and a violent but carefully calculated malevolence that any fan of Incantation should be more than happy to welcome with open arms.

This is Tomb Mold’s third album since the band was formed in 2015. While the pace of their output has been quick, they have not been cutting corners in their mad dash to release three full-lengths in as many years. Planetary Clairvoyance is a thoughtfully crafted album, never relying simply on speed or brutality to make its point. While there are fast riffs and blastbeats aplenty, Tomb Mold enriches the album’s sound with the occasional sliver of death doom. Though there are a lot of these switches from fast, driving death metal to slower chord progressions, and sometimes to sections that feature a guitar riffing independently of other instruments, it never seems to let up in intensity, except for the occasional atmospheric moments. Planetary Clairvoyance smoothly shifts from one idea to the next and provides a lot of subtle variations on its musical themes so that you might not recognize at first how much change is packed into the album. While its mood is consistently oppressive and frightening, due in no small part to the guitars’ murky yet massive distortion, there are a lot of standout moments you won’t be forgetting any time soon, from a slow, dramatic portion of ‘Infinite Resurrection’ that repeatedly slams you into the ground to an odd, almost tribal, show of percussion in the second half of “Accelerative Phenomenae” and the slow, destructive stomp of “Heat Death.” The guitar solos are commendable as well. They aren’t particularly fast or flashy but they have a smooth, emotive character not unlike the ones Chuck Schuldiner performed during the progressive phase of his career but somehow manage not to detract from the album’s overall menacing aura.

Further compounding the album’s dark and crushingly heavy tone is the production. The guitars are given a lot of power in the studio, augmenting the riffs with a level of distortion as thick and meaty as a sub from a New York deli. Thankfully, this does not mean the bass is lost in the shuffle. Instead, the basslines are frequently audible, providing a more subtle sort of menace as they bounce along. Max Klebanoff’s gutturals, meanwhile, are pushed back a bit, making their presence a bit more subtle than expected, effectively allowing them to meld with the instruments to create a production aesthetic that’s somewhat murky but still incredibly muscular.

While this album’s vicious riffing goes a long way toward establishing its sinister personality, there are a lot of brilliant atmospherics that elicit plenty of dread when their time comes. The 3-minute cut “Phosphorene Ultimate” is dedicated entirely to molding a sound collage out of creepy, droning guitars and the sounds you’d hear while wandering through the halls of a derelict spaceship (including scrambled and unintelligible radio transmissions). Effective ambient sections like the sparse, eerie guitar lines in album opener “Beg For Life” and something that sounds like a field recording from a jungle on another planet that closes out “Heat Death” (and the album) are spread conservatively throughout and provide the occasional break from the intensity while ensuring that a listener always feels some sense of tension.

Planetary Clairvoyance is an album that strikes the right balance immediately and never loses its way. Though Tomb Mold gives their ideas plenty of room to breathe, there’s more than enough change from one moment to the next to provide a sense of growth and progression. The album may sound monotonous at first because of how consistently colossal and threatening its tone is but those paying attention will recognize that Planetary Clairvoyance is a journey through an ever-changing landscape of expertly-realized and ferocious songcraft.

Originally written for the Metal Observer

The new elite... - 93%

robotiq, September 21st, 2019

Death metal is about progression. From ‘Seven Churches’ onward, this genre pushed the boundaries of extremity, heaviness, composition and musicianship (often simultaneously). Many people, myself included, might say that the golden age of death metal was somewhere between 1985 and 1993. Certainly the progression has hit a brick wall in recent years, with a couple of exceptions. The first death metal album to rekindle my interest in the genre was “Starspawn” by Blood Incantation. Here was a record that would not have been possible in 1993. This was the sound of a band reaching further into the primordial void than any of its forebears (Timeghoul, Immolation, Morbid Angel), expanding the template for others to follow.

“Planetary Clairvoyance" is another such record. Progression here comes through assimilation. Tomb Mold have absorbed everything good about death metal from the last 30+ years. Superficially, I would describe it as a combination of “Into the Grave” and “Human”. It has the primeval power of the former and the progressive structures (and musicianship) of the latter. Other comparisons might include the crushing astral weight of “Slumber of Sullen Eyes” and the intricacies of “Focus”. For clarification, Tomb Mold sound nothing like Cynic, but they have plenty of riffs and ideas in common, and the soloing is Masvidal-esque in places.

The album is relatively short (under 40 minutes), and the songs long (six minutes on average). The band have enough riffs and enough skill to arrange them into a cohesive whole. The opening track “Beg For Life” is a great example of how they have mined the depth and breadth of classic death metal and applied their understanding. The song builds with some Finnish-style Demigod/Abhorrence tremolo riffs before switching to a mid-paced riff at about 2:01, locking into a headbanging moment at 2:59. A few more adjustments before a ‘proggy’ section at 3:29 (sounds like a Cynic riff to my ears), before dropping an acoustic break right in the middle of the song. The growling vocals and pounding drums ride over the acoustic guitar before the distortion kicks back in. The final third involves some well-placed blasting, some more Demigod-ish riffs and a solo. Progression, flow, heaviness. This is what death metal should sound like. Incidentally, "Beg for Life" is my least favourite song on the album. That’s how deep this record is.

Of the other songs, the title track is the fastest, with speed passages that keep the listener on edge. The best riff on the entire album comes after the dead-stop at about 3:35. This might be the best death metal riff ever, though I'm not sure I can qualify that statement right now. Second best riff of the album is at 4:24 of “Accelerative Phenomenae”, which is probably the darkest and most ‘Finnish’ sounding song and also the one I’ve returned to most often. “Infinite Resurrection” is the most immediate and crushing song, maybe the most complex in terms of structure and certainly the one I would recommend hearing first. “Cerulean Salvation” is the most old school song (well, they re-appropriate the opening riff from “Open Casket” anyway). “Heat Death” is an almost instrumental riff-fest and the best example of their musicianship, perhaps hinting at the direction Tomb Mold might go in future.

I could identify countless examples of where each of these songs fucking kills. Every song is an endless parade of amazing riffs, one after the other, arranged and played to perfection. This album, perhaps more than any other, demonstrates the importance of mid-paced grooves in death metal. Any bunch of idiots can pick up some instruments and play ultra slow passages and throw in some fast blasting sections, but good death metal bands exploit mid-pace grooves. Tomb Mold embody these sections, shifting through the middle gears and using these passages as a basis for their solos. As a result, the solos are always well-placed and always sound 'earned'.

A quick word on the ambient track (“Phospherene Ultimate”). I love the band's confidence in placing this in the middle of the album. For three minutes, the listener is transported into an alien realm such as the one depicted on the album cover and inlay. The glitches and popping sounds add to the sci-fi atmosphere without feeling like gimmicks. I’m sure at least one member of the band appreciates ambient electronic music (Biosphere? Autechre...?), which is why they assimilate it into their sound so well. There are other similar moments on the album, intros and outros, and they’re more important to the overall experience than you might assume.

I could nitpick about the production. This record is best appreciated when played loud, losing a disproportionate amount of impact at lower volumes. Don’t get me wrong, the overall sound is wonderful and organic and the drums sound great, with no triggers or effects. Still, I wonder whether a little more grit and nastiness in the guitar department might help. This might push it closer to the sound achieved on “Into the Grave” or (for a modern example) “Punishment in Flesh” by Innumerable Forms. Fuck it, this minor point that is barely worth mentioning, just turn the volume up and apologise to your neighbours later.

In summary, this is a brilliant album and will be a landmark moment in death metal history. When the dust settles it might end up being my favourite death metal record of the last 25 years.

A Show of Astronomical Growth - 92%

Kingpumpkin, August 29th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, 12" vinyl, 20 Buck Spin

A bestial roar echoes from the charnel void of space… planets come alive and devour each other with incomprehensible ferocity… mutated hybrids beings are resurrected to fight in endless wars…. Tomb Mold are back, and they’ve ratcheted the terror up to astronomical levels. Only 13 months since the release of their critically acclaimed breakout album (and first album as a full lineup rather than as a studio project) Manor of Infinite Forms, Tomb Mold have kept up the momentum with Planetary Clairvoyance, a monumental entry into the canon of cosmic horror.

Tomb Mold is a Toronto death metal band that has ridden a wave of old-school revivalism to unexpected stardom. Originally conceived of as a studio project composed of Max Klebanoff on drums and vocals and Derrick Vella on bass and guitars, the band has since expanded to a full lineup with Steve Musgrave taking over bass and Payson Power on guitar. They also achieved a measure of notoriety for lyrical themes concerning the Lovecraftian horror of the Bloodborne (in which Tomb Mold is a crafting item) and Dark Souls video game franchises.

Planetary Clairvoyance brings a more diverse array of genre influences to the table than did Manor—it is more technical, melodic, progressive, and thematically cohesive, all without sacrificing their characteristically organic timbre. You know what Tomb Mold sounds like, and the production on this album is no different. Rest assured, old school death metal fans, Planetary Clairvoyance gives up none of the sound of classic death metal in its pursuit of more complex songwriting—and those songs are fantastic. Above all, they are concise, never overstaying their welcome. The album is pared down to only six songs and an interlude, each track making a distinct case for inclusion on the album by working as its own self-contained multi-stage universe. Occasionally, the riffs will fall into a familiar formula of seven chugging bars repeated before a flourish on the eighth, but the songs tend to morph with such propulsive force that you aren’t likely to feel stuck in one place too long. An exception to this is in the closing minutes of “Cerulean Salvation”, where a towering death/doom riff repeats until the song fades to black. For the first little while, it’s bludgeoning, but after a few minutes, it does lose my attention. That said, repetition is the exception rather than the rule, and this is proven right off the bat with the prog-tinged opener, “Beg for Life”.

The track begins with the vastness of space: skittering alien sounds tickle the edges of a cavernous ambiance before a tremolo guitar lead emerges from the background. With a rush of cymbals, chugging chords, and double kick drums, the song shifts into gear, delivering a winning mid-tempo death metal riff. Intensity builds as the tempo increases, the vocals become more insistent, blast beats are incorporated, and the heavy riffs gain a groovy start-stop quality. Suddenly, the instrumentation falls away, revealing a tasteful acoustic guitar line. Acoustic interludes can feel like an unnecessary progressive cliché, but this one is a pivotal moment. The song builds naturally back to death metal, with drums and vocals returning first to join the guitar, before smoothly transitioning to a chugging, furious, blast-beating climax. As a mission statement, “Beg for Life” is perfect: it lays out everything that Planetary Clairvoyance will be and gets your blood rushing dangerously fast.

The intricacies of “Beg for Life” are indicative of Tomb Mold’s new approach to songwriting: a focus on dynamics. The songs maintain constant intensity but still manage an ebb and flow of energy, each building tension to an initial peak before easing off the gas, letting you breathe, then building you even higher than before. On the second track, “Planetary Clairvoyance (They Grow Inside Pt. II)” (which transitions seamlessly out of “Beg for Life”), classic death metal riffing opens the song, but infectious thrash and vicious grind build it to the point of uncontrolled grooving madness. Then, the instrumentation abruptly disappears, leaving seconds of silence before a crushing mosh-worthy riff slams its way into existence and all hell breaks loose (Toronto music venues are about to suffer some serious structural damage). This is easily my favourite moment on the album, and seeing it recreated live collapsed my vertebrae like a Jenga tower.

“Phosphorene Ultimate” gives us a break after the first two tracks, providing more of the astral ambiance that began the album, this time joined by staticky solar wind, ethereal keys, and the faintest corrupted traces of a signal lost in space. The interlude is pleasant, but I question its placement on the album. Rather than easing momentum, it kills some of the grandeur that the first two tracks built and the transition to the leaden riffs that begin “Infinite Resurrection” is too jarring. The title track could have led directly into “Infinite Resurrection”, and the interlude could have served to separate the two sides of the album, which would have made narrative sense given that they were written by different band members.

In a Kerrang! interview, guitarist Derrick Vella spoke on the lyrical themes: “Side A is about a breakup. I broke up with my partner of five and a half years last year. It’s all under this weird guise of planets swallowing themselves whole, passage to spirit worlds, and being reborn. Yet, it’s all about leaving someone or going through life changes.” Drummer and vocalist Max Klebanoff said of the latter half: “Side B of the record represents the final push towards a dolorous end. A vast cosmic mass or space pulls apart, reducing you to your final ashen form to then even further disintegrate into the celestial ether. Most of my lyrics… focus [on] the collapse of one’s corporeal form and complete disintegration of somatic and cognitive capabilities.” Through visual language of science fiction, Tomb Mold plumbs deeper emotional themes, which, while not strictly necessary in death metal, adds another layer for the listener to uncover and connect with.

“Infinite Resurrection” and “Accelerative Phenomenae” are more traditional death metal cuts. The former varies in tempo and time signature constantly, counterposing pummelling brutal death with grooving syncopated rhythms and a slow midsection that provides room for one of the most memorably triumphal guitar solos on the album. Its penultimate section is off-kilter and buffeting, even mathy.

The two final tracks form an oppressively heavy finale. As I mentioned previously, “Cerulean Salvation” draws on death/doom, decelerating to a sluggish and somewhat unexciting end. The drums provide some variation to the repetitive riffing, moving from a double-kick style at the midpoint of the song to an almost tribal beat by the end. “Heat Death”, however, is a major highlight that incorporates the death/doom much more effectively. For the entire first half of the song, an angular riff builds in intensity, a climactic guitar solo taking the place of vocal duties before Max Klebanoff’s familiar roar makes its first appearance at the three-minute mark. After this point, the song slows to a crushing pace. This time, it’s not a slow decay, but a build, with the vocals and instruments becoming more and more insistent, intense, and emotionally striking.

This is an exceedingly strong project, and a clear show of artistic growth (mutation?) for Tomb Mold. It lifts my heart to see a band from Toronto stake a place in the cold universe of death metal, and to do it with not just virtuosic execution, but with boundless creativity. It’s miraculous for a band this young to produce an album this close to perfect, but it still feels like they have an endless cosmos to expand into. Instant classic.

Favourite Tracks:
Beg for Life
Planetary Clairvoyance (They Grow Inside Pt. II)
Heat Death

Least Favourite Tracks:
Phosphorene Ultimate
Cerulean Salvation

Originally published in wrench zine