Brooklyn metal band Tombs will shortly release their immense new album The Grand Annihilation. The album, the bands first since 2014s Savage Gold sees their black metal and post metal melding intertwined with more of an influence from legendary bands such as Joy Division and Bauhaus and the results are stunning. We had a chat with the bands frontman Mike Hill to hear all about the album and its sound and outlook as well as influences and live plans.
The songs on The Grand Annihilation are the most expansive and epic you have done, was that your intention with the material on the new album?
I always try to move forward with each record. It’s all just a by product of work ethic and determination. I have cut away a lot of the distractions in my life so that I can focus on being creative. My intention to compete with myself and always do better.
What is the significance behind the title of the album?
The Grand Annihilation was taken from an essay I was writing about my observations about the cyclical nature of the universe and human societies. There seems to be a cycle of annihilation and renewal in the universe, destruction, chaos and then re-ordering into a new horizon. I like to apply this to the microcosm of personal existence. I look at the things in my life that aren’t working and in a way I destroy my old self so that I have room for the newer, improved version of myself.
Is there an overall lyrical theme to this album?
A lot of the lyrics deal with the concept I outlined above; destruction, rebirth, darkness and chaos then order. There the theme of embracing the primal aspects of humanity. Over the last several years, there has been a not-so-subtle war against masculinity. Typical “male behavior” is looked down on, but in reality, I believe this is creating a society of imbalanced men and women who are in conflict with their true nature. I think this is cause of the anxiety and neurosis that a lot of people experience. They turn to pharmaceuticals, end up killing themselves when all they needed to do was get into their bodies and experience the physical world. I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there that need to medicated; I agree that some people require pharmaceuticals due to some legitimate emotional issue, but that’s often time not the case. It’s the “corporation” trying to enslave everyone. There is also a them of pursuing the path of the individual, the outlaw, the outsider in the lyrics. There is a celebration of following the dark path to hidden knowledge that ultimately leads to freedom.
You released the EP All Empires Fall, is that release a good indication of where Tombs are with this new material or is it an even fresher approach with this new music?
I think that you can probably answer that question better than I can. My answer is pretty much irrelevant. I never have a game plan regarding the direction of the band, I follow my instincts.
Does The Grand Annihilation differ much in style when you compare it with your last album Savage Gold?
To me, it sounds the same stylistically, maybe people have other ideas about it. The production is a little different. It was our first record with Erik Rutan. We learned a lot on that record and we were able to apply that to the newest record.
You worked on the album with Erik Rutan again, having worked with him on Savage Gold. How was it working with him again and what did he bring to the records sound?
Rutan really understands me and how the band should sound. I feel like we both gravitated toward a common ground and the overall result is awesome. I would have tended to put more effects on everything, making it sound washier and more distant. Rutan is a master of in-your-face death metal yet he was able to compromise with me and allow more space n the mix. On this most recent record, we came pretty damn close to the ideal. I see us making records for many years to come. I trust Erik Rutan with the sound of the band. It is not easy, he is very demanding, but it’s a good process.
How did the recording of the album go?
It was demanding but worth it. Recording shouldn’t be process where some guy throws up mics and hit record and tells that that you did a great job when you could have done better. I want someone to push me hard and bring the best out of me. Iron sharpens iron.
What inspired and motivated you when it came to writing and recording the new album?
I never have a problem with motivation. Discipline has carried me along way; I don’t consider myself a particularly talented person. It’s the work ethic that gets me to the next level. If I didn’t work hard it would all go away. I guess fear is the motivator. I fear not being able to do all of the things that I need to do. I can see the void lurking just beyond the horizon and there are still many things that I want to do before I’m overcome but the abyss.
Do you feel that this album is the best of Tombs career?
No. Our next record will be the best Tombs record.
The Grand Annihilation is a brilliant album and I must say that Old Wounds and Walk With Me In Nightmares have to be my favourite songs from it, so heavy! Do you have a favourite yet?
I really like Walk with Me in Nightmares. I also enjoy playing November Wolves. It’s a relatively simple song, but it has an old school groove that I can really dig into. Its hard to pick a favorite, I’m thinking about songs I enjoy playing. I think that Way of the Storm turned out really well with respect to the recording.
Underneath has a post punk feel to it and seemingly a big Joy Divison and Killing Joke influence, would you say that is correct and is that that style of music that influences you?
Pretty much all of our records have this kind of influence; all the way back to our earliest recordings. Joy Division, Bauhaus. Fields of the Nephilim and all of that great stuff form the late 70’s and 80’s has always been a huge influence.
What is it that got you into post punk and are you into punk and hardcore at all too?
I had a girlfriend when I was in high school that was into bands like The Cure, goth stuff as well as punk. She turned me on to that stuff. I also really liked the way the girls looked; they looked really cool with black hair and eyeliner. Back then, it was rare to meet other people that were into music like that. A huge turning point for me was going to see X in New York City. I was a suburban yokel in the big city. The music was great and I was exposed to the whole old school NYC punk thing that is totally gone at this point. I feel fortunate to have experienced that period. It felt so real and urgent and it all made a huge impression on me.
What are your favourite post-punk albums of all time?
I don’t really like to use that term, but I love Joy Division, Fields of the Nephilim, Bauhaus, The Birthday Party and pretty much anything that Nick Cave has done including The Boys Next Door. I wouldn’t put the Swans in the Post-Punk genre, but they are also a huge influence on me.
Do you feel that the band still have a black metal influence at all? It would appear you do, based on the albums final track Temple Of Mars?
Sure. That’s a sound that we’ve always had and will always be part of Tombs.
What was it about black metal that interested you?
Initially, black metal felt like the new punk music. I remember reading an article about black metal that talked about Burzum, Emperor, Darkthrone and all of those original bands. It seemed so raw and intense. It was outside music and the guys making it were scary. I read stories of murder, arson and suicide. It was Slayer on steroids! The music was a perfect extension of Venom and Bathory which to me had more in common with punk than thrash or speed metal. That intensity is what attracted me initially.
Who else has influenced the music and outlook of Tombs?
It all goes back to bands like Black Flag, Slayer, Neurosis, Swans, Black Sabbath; bands that really defined the space they operate in. Those band really created a new level, a new standard. They advanced music in a big way.
This is your first release on Metal Blade, how are things working out with the new label?
It’s too early to really see if anything will be different on any meaningful level. So far everything is going well, but the record hasn’t been released. Being on Metal Blade has definitely opened some doors for us.
What are your touring plans once The Grand Annihilation is released?
We have a ton of road work schedule for this year, most is in the US, but there are some offers coming in from Europe. There is a lot of financial concerns with touring in Europe, so we need the right opportunities.
Will you be making over to the U.K. And Europe again?
I hope so. We have a few offers, but nothing is confirmed.
I witnessed the band mesmerizing the audience at Temples festival alongside Neurosis and Amenra in 2014. Was that a show you enjoyed playing? Myself and the rest of the audience at Temples certainly did!
It was great, one of the best fests that I’ve been part of. Temples Fest and Roadburn go down as the best festival experiences that I’ve had.
Do you enjoy playing outdoor festivals or do you feel that Tombs work better in a dark, cavernous atmosphere when playing live?
Both are cool. They’re different but equally enjoyable.
Will you be playing a lot of your new record when you hit the road again?
Most of the set will be new material off of the record. We will still be playing some of the older stuff to keep things familiar.
How will songs from The Grand Annihilation fit in alongside your older material and how do you pick which songs to play when you are playing live?
We’ve been playing some of the material for almost a year, so to me at least, it fits pretty well.
What were your initial goals when you first started Tombs and do you feel you have accomplished them?
I had no expectations, no goals. I’m grateful that people are into the band. I literally just wanted to be able to write music that I enjoyed. I just want to keep doing it for as long as its still interesting to me.
Who would you love Tombs to tour with in the future?
Neurosis, Slayer, Fields Of The Nephilim, Godflesh…these are all bands that I’d love to share the stage with.
Who have you enjoyed touring with the most?
Our tours with Isis were some of my best memories of touring. They are close friends of mine and I really loved the tours we did together.
What have been some of the highlights from your career with Tombs so far?
Touring with Isis; playing with Neurosis at Maryland Death Fest and Temples Fest; playing Roadburn not once, but twice!
What music are you currently enjoying at the moment?
I listen to a lot of stuff. Oxbow –Thin Black Duke, the weird, industrial metal album that Fields Of The Nephilim did called Zoon is something that I’m really into. An Unending Pathway by Atriach is a killer record. Also, a pretty steady diet of Celtic Frost, Slayer, Morbid Angel and heavy stuff like that.