Age of Darkness


The tagline on TOMBSTALKER's Bandcamp is "forget the progress of knowledge and understanding, for in […]
July 11, 2023
Tombstalker - Age of Darkness album cover

The tagline on TOMBSTALKER's Bandcamp is "forget the progress of knowledge and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war." It's a tagline that could be used for death metal in general; if black metal deals with the eternal war between the metaphysical gods of good and evil, death metal drags you back to reality.  It's not the gods that are causing grief.  It's motherfucking human beings.  The Lexington, Kentucky band's new EP "Age of Darkness" takes this to another fantastical, phantasmagoric level, putting the human analogues in space and engaging them in an extraterrestrial battle royale.  There are cybernetic enslavements, tech priests and starlit assassins, all framed by the filthy, confident playing of these four Americans from the hills of the dirty South.  It's a fully-realized vision, death metal that's firmly entrenched in the hallowed halls of BOLT THROWER and AUTOPSY, but inventive enough to stand on its own among the cybernetic dead.  Had it been a full-length, there's no doubt this could be AOY kind of stuff.  As it is, we have a nugget of death metal genius that plants the seeds for TOMBSTALKER's future domination.

While the album isn't overtly a concept one, there's a steady theme, both lyrically and musically, about being engaged in an endless battle for victory between existential enemies that have fought for eternity.  It's the yin and yang of our singular existences and how these intertwine with each other, juxtaposed over an alien battle in the stars. The first song erupts from the gates like a nitrous oxide powered funny car. "Astral Combat" blasts the listener off into this post-apocalyptic world of evil and decay. The guitar work on the song is tasteful, diverse and- most-importantly, bad ass: just enough high-end in the mud to make it crisp enough to cut through human flesh, but muddy enough to cover your tracks. The guitars weave in and out of each other- that yin and yang, the eternal struggle- giving the song an almost psychedelic, meditative effect.

The next song,"Titan World", drops you right into the fight.  It's a mass of flesh, blood, bones and teeth: millions engaged in the final battle for freedom, loomed over by the titan warriors. It's the most straight-up death metal song on the album, with a serious punk rock undertone, the fists of the titans balled up in anticipation of getting good and bloody.  It's a crowd-pleaser in the sense that it'll get the kids worked up into a frenzy at the rec center all-ages show, but also in its ability to show what this end of the universe battle might sound like.  TOMBSTALKER is particularly strong in this area: they are able to paint a picture of their sonic world with these four instruments as brushes, and it's a gloriously ugly thing to witness. "Titan World" has it all: the broad strokes of trad death metal breakdowns; the complementary colors with which Gruftspere and Conqueror Horus paint their palette of misery, and a commitment to this misery that's an impressive sweep of mud on the canvas of our ugly world.

Third song "Age of Darkness" starts with a simply recorded jam with two acoustic guitars. You can hear the room noise and the sound of a forest stream. A third guitar enters stage right, and swirls around the other two instruments.  "Age of Darkness" is a sonic exploration of taking a deep breath and being alone with your thoughts, whether or not you want to be.  It's the brief pause in the middle of overwhelming grief, the knowledge that it will return and the comfort in knowing you have a moment.  The song sounds like it was recorded on Garageband circa 2006, but this deliberate decision is a lesson in artistic restraint.  Had it felt more composed, the piece wouldn't serve as the sonic equivalent of your lungs slowly refilling with air.  It's an audacious choice, and an effective one, setting you up for the grand finale, "Final Night."

"Final Night" throws down the fucking gauntlet and TOMBSTALKER embrace the original gods of death metal, a relentless assault of pedal to the fucking heaviest of the metal, with a massive BOLT THROWER breakdown in which you can just feel the concrete floor of the club start to crack. Gruftspure's and Conqueror Horus's two guitars work intertwined here: there's none of that fucking harmonizing shit, because we want this to be a fucking warhammer.  The riff crushes, and then the two launch into a rhythmic lead over crunching power chords into a faster than light-speed death metal assault.  The guitars swim in and out, seemingly pummeling each other, as Conqueror Horus raises his axe of victory over an ocean of dead bodies beneath his feet.  As the end of the song approaches, the band falls into an old school power metal victory march, with two thick-as-mud guitar leads over the guitar riff, and it collapses into a single, fading growl from Horus.

Like their fellow North American comrades CATTLE DECAPITATION, BLOOD INCANTATION and TOMB MOLD, these guys from Lexington have breathed a huge blast of nasty, stinky air into the creative abyss of death metal.  There's a swagger to the album that incorporates all of their influences into one slab of brilliant sonic violence.  It's definitely death metal, but you'll find elements of crustpunk, stoner, traditional power metal and doom. More importantly, you'll find their own mark on these songs, something that's incredibly difficult to do in such a structured form of music. "Age of Darkness" is a triumph really, TOMBSTALKER being the last titan standing, holding the severed heads of their enemies in their hands, letting you know that this isn't the last time you've heard from them.

9 / 10

Almost Perfect








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"Age of Darkness" Track-listing:

1. Astral Combat
2. Titan Warlord
3. Age of Darkness
4. Final Night

Tombstalker Lineup:

Contagion- Drums
Gruftspüre- Guitars (lead)
Defiler- Bass
Conqueror Horus- Guitars, Vocals

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