Contemporary death metal has progressed a long way from its rancid roots, branching out into almost countless different approaches within a similar paradigm. As appealing as I may find the squeaky clean technicalities and intricacies in the music of a band like, say, Cattle Decapitation, I am also a sucker for a more rotten style of death metal, so lo-fi and muddy that it can be described as the musical equivalent of a partially putrified corpse dug out of the damp ground and attempted to be brought back to life by a Victor Frankenstein-like mad scientist. As should be clear from the album title and cover to Tomb Mold’s debut on Blood Harvest Records, Primordial Malignity, the Toronto-based duo certainly fit this aesthetic, with traits that can be clearly traced back to classic influences in the death metal genre, with bands like Obituary, Autopsy and Morbid Angel coming to mind. However, on their debut, Tomb Mold also carry a distinct influence from crust music whilst incorporating many elements more akin to classic thrash and black metal acts at times, making the end product a sickening mixture of various stylistic entrails, akin to how Frankenstein’s monster was a disjointed cluster of various decrepit human body parts. This all amounts to Tomb Mold’s sound being both rather unique and true to the traits of their influences. Certain other aspects, like the booming and brutal bass on this album, make for a record that is as interesting as it is disgusting and demonstrates much promise for this new death metal duo.
Across Primordial Malignity‘s 32-minute runtime, spanning across eight tracks, you can expect to hear some familiar and foreign ideas. At the core of this duo’s sound, there is a distinct influence from and awareness of classic death metal, particularly coming from Sweden and Finland, so they seem to be very at home signed to the Sweden-based underground metal label that is Blood Harvest. Whilst this is an album that would satisfy your average death metal purist, Tomb Mold incorporate other musical ideas without encroaching on this classic sound. For instance, many death metal albums seek to hit the listener with an abrupt opening and blister through their initial onslaught of riffs, blastbeats and growls right from the onset, but Tomb Mold decide to introduce their debut album with over a minute’s worth of respectfully-crafted ambient noise on the opening cut, They Grow Inside. Whether or not this was the intention of this introduction, the ambience pays off well, arguably making the transition into the main body of the track all the more forceful, as the listener is greeted with a blast of fast drumming, a rumbling growl from drummer and vocalist Max Klebanoff and a fantastic riff with some clear inspiration from technical death metal. This weird and slightly dissonant riff is in a 4/4 time signature, but is phrased as if to sound like it’s composed of four bars of 3/4 followed by one bar of 4/4. Such interesting and deceitful phrasing is very typical of technical death metal, but the band incorporate this riff so well that it sounds completely natural as part of an otherwise classic-sounding death metal track. The riffage over the verse, despite being very similar to the intro riff, sounds like it’s coming from a totally different place, thanks to the plodding drums that work well with Klebanoff’s meaty growls. This reinforces my initial point about the marrying of the familiar and the foreign; nothing much about Klebanoff’s drumming or vocals over the verse stand out as being wildly different from many classic death metal bands, but axeman Derrick Vella’s crazy guitar lines take this composition to a completely different level.
Bereavement of Flesh is an interesting addition to the tracklisting, as it appeared on Tomb Mold’s The Bottomless Perdition demo tape of DIY recordings that was subsequently released on Blood Harvest Records, leading to the release of Primordial Malignity. The recording on this tape, as one would imagine, is incredibly rough and bare-bones, but nonetheless captures a sense of what the band was trying to do and what their vision was. The riffage has a more thrash-tinged air to it, which is reinforced by Klebanoff’s foot-stomping drumming. However, on Primordial Malignity, the cut displays the band’s guttural sound much more prominently, largely as a result of the almost-spotless production on this album, which captures the repugnance of Tomb Mold’s sound with lo-fi recordings, but doesn’t sacrifice the clarity required for Vella’s guitar leads to shine. Bereavement of Flesh on the band’s debut comes together as a justified re-working of the track that pays off very well, sounding not at all out of place amongst the other tracks.
It must be said that, although Tomb Mold’s sound is a great pairing of classic death metal sounds with weird ideas pulled from all over the place, once the listener is on their third or fourth spin of the record, they start to catch onto the band’s blueprint, leaving some songs less hard-hitting as they were on the first listen. Even Coincidence of Opposites, the second cut on Primordial Malignity, has many of the same tricks up its sleeve as the introductory track, meaning that it doesn’t catch the listener off-guard as They Grow Inside did. Then again, this track still stands out thanks to Vella’s grumbling bass tone, which is incredibly prominent on this cut. Furthermore, the thrashy foundation of the title track is slightly similar to that of the preceding track, the aforementioned Bereavement of Flesh, making an otherwise absolutely pummelling track with off-kilter accents and tempo changes a bit easier to foretell, thus reducing its forcefulness ever so slightly. This being said, the aforementioned tracks are still strong in their own right and, although they would perhaps fair better outside of the context given by the tracks that precede them, they are nevertheless solid songs that showcase some more interesting ideas from the duo.
All in all, Primordial Malignity is a classic-sounding death metal record with a sleight of hand, deceptively throwing a whole host of different sounds and styles at the listener that keep the record gripping throughout its runtime. The strongest tracks on here are absolutely revolting and blisteringly good, incorporating whacky guitar licks, beautifully bellowing bass tones and typical death beats and growling vocals that go down well. Some of the cuts around the middle of the album don’t pack quite the same punch as the better tracks, but they nonetheless continue the band’s unique sound and don’t feel wasted in the tracklisting. Tomb Mold have come through with a very strong debut that alludes to great things for the duo. Indeed, their sound on this record feels not yet fully-formed, perhaps with a few limbs loosely hanging off the monster’s body, but they could most definitely take their sound to new heights with some more whacky ideas being thrown into the mix and surprise their audience with an even crazier death metal record than this one.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10