Santa Fe quartet, Street Tombs, took the unusual step of releasing three demos between 2018 and 2021 before recording their debut album. Few bands follow this route nowadays, but that might also be symptomatic of the group’s approach to death metal. They hark back to the oversaturation of the global underground in the early 1990s when you could overdose on too much of the same thing. Street Tombs try to distinguish their modern assault from the legion of Bolt Thrower clones still doing the rounds, but it’s an experiment that has few demands on your attention.
This band might be one of the hottest names in the scene if they could find the vocals to match the crunch and malevolence of their guitar riffs. Opener, ‘Wretched Remains’, is a fine piece of scything thrash metal with a raw hardcore production and plenty of air guitar moments for those of you that enjoyed the last High Command album. How can you complain about the neck-breaking speed or the reckless disregard for melody? Any form of hardcore belting or higher-pitched screaming would elevate this to the highest of standards. Instead, the joint vocalists, David McMaster and Damian Jacoby, retreat into a monotonous and unmotivated growl enunciation that sounds as inspiring as a trip to the cosmetics wholesalers with your girlfriend. How we need a Tom Araya outburst at the end to match the awesome Slayer groove. The attention to detail in the guitar work would benefit from the same level of thought at the microphone.
It’s always a bad sign when you disregard the vocals after one song to focus on the positives, and Street Tombs show they have enough to keep you on board for at least two listens. But is there a reason why every song on this album breaches the five-minute mark? Hard-hitting death metal with little or no variation in tempo should need no more than four minutes per track to leave its trail of blood and destruction. The d-beat stomp of ‘Diseased Existence’ stops at 04:24 but then resumes for one final minute with just a droning synth note to keep it together. ‘Devour’ would be much more ferocious if it contained a semblance of hardcore fury. You can’t fault the tempo or riffing in ‘Rising Torment’, but the lack of originality and the preposterous decision to stretch it out to six minutes in length will send you to sleep. One would hope the experience will be more thrilling in a live venue.
Is this the evil thrash metal of the mid 1980s (Kreator) or the death metal of the late 1980s (Pestilence)? You can decide on ‘Commanding Voices of the Damned’, but you’ll need to imagine it’s John Tardy at the microphone to keep you interested beyond three minutes. The biggest relief is when you realise that Street Tombs are merciful enough to keep the running time of the album to a tolerable thirty-two minutes. You can even hear the early Anthrax and Metallica gallop in closing track, ‘Volcanic Siege’. This band have their charms if you focus on the quality of the guitar and drum work.
Old school death metal has a place in the modern scene when executed with agony and intent. Secret Tombs are a group with time on their side, but they need to think what made the genre so thrilling in the first place before they write their sophomore effort.
Release Date: 17/02/2023
Record Label: Carbonized Records
Standout tracks: Wretched Remains, Devour, Commanding Voices of the Damned
Suggested Further Listening: Mental Cavity – Mass Rebel Infest (2021), Nocturnal Graves – An Outlaw’s Stand (2022), Death Chamber – Experiments in Warfare (2021)