The handling of the heavy: Tombstones, «Vargariis»

VargariisIn their (relatively) new album, Vargariis, Tombstones show a distinctive quality, which had already hit me since the previous record (Red Skies and Dead Eyes, 2013): you keep on coming back to their sludgy doom, and give it another listen, and then another one, just for the pleasure of it, and so on. I’d love to find the exact musical reason for this coming back, for these repetitive listenings, but the only thing that I can point out for sure is their excellent «handling of the heavy» – which may sound obvious for a heavy metal band, but it’s not. The Norwegian trio knows exactly how to deal with heaviness, how to conjure it and carry it along, how to crush without choking, how to shake you down without burying you.

It’s all clear from from the beginning, since that single note that opens Barren Fields, a relaxed, self-assured, heavy note, which stands like a foundation, a clear statement, and then evolves throughout the entire track until the pacey ending (Tombstones are very good also at ending songs). Heaviness is the North of their compass, they always come back to it from their detours (the bluesy ones are quite good), and every little cue could be the starting of another rumbling feast, despite the structure of the song – little phrases, a storm of chords, the ghost of a riff (go to minute 3 of …and when the Heathen strive, Vargariis rise). The tone is always there: a nice, muddy, saturated tone; which is not just a matter of the guitar tone – although it’s a big part of it –, but the result of the three main ingredients (best results can be heard at the end of The Dark High and during Pyre of the Cloth): when they’re done with vocals, they hammer you down with undistracted focus – and that’s what we like the most, don’t we?

Tombstones, Vargariis, Soulseller Records 2015.