Tombs - Winter Hours (Relapse, 2009)

I've been having trouble deciding what to say about this album. It's possible I'm trying too hard to like it. I feel like Tombs' Mike Hill very purposefully set out to take the hardcore he knows and drive it off in a blackened, ambient and dark direction. We got a taste of this idea on Tombs' self titled album, but the concept is now fully formed on Winter Hours. Clearly, this is a fantastic and ambitious piece of music. I'm just having a hard time deciding exactly how much I enjoy it in the end.
These are some truly crushing tunes. We have moments of dire blackness, with atonal arpeggios speeding along at ludicrous speeds. There are plenty of sludgy, slow parts that evoke Neurosis or early Mastodon. These sit alongside excellent hardcore jaunts that spice up the proceedings. Lastly, the clean, ambient breaks really stand out.
I think the thing that really ties this all together coherently is Mike Hill's voice. He slides ably from typical hardcore phrasings to deathly bellows to corpse painted shrieks. A sense of complete despair pervades. The lyrics seem to be a poetic exegesis of the apocalypse. I think it is quite purposeful that there are no sing-along choruses here.
One problem I see is that the rhythm section doesn't always feel at home. There are some points when this thing should really groove, but it just doesn't. Bass player Carson James and drummer Justin Ennis sometimes sound like they're playing along to a completely different tune.
The album is pretty engaging throughout, but the sludgy slow parts can get a little boring. There is such a jarring dissonance on Winter Hours that at times it's difficult (at least for me) to enjoy. But maybe that's the point. I guess you either get Mike Hill's vision, or you don't.

82/100

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