The Atlanta duo of Kyle Walburn and Brandon Iacovella started Tómarúm in 2017 and won’t mind us assuming things started as a bedroom project between two musicians with a shared love for black metal, prog, and tech death. Their 2020 EP persuaded Prosthetic Records to offer them a contract and gave them the impetus to recruit other musicians for their debut album. To their credit, they recorded Ash in Realms of Stone Icons as if it would be their last opportunity to commit their art to posterity, which presents as many problems as it does highpoints of sophistication. The musicianship might be impeccable, but the levels of self-indulgence are exhausting.
You can learn a lot about this record in the opening two-and-a-half minutes of ‘Introspection I’. The complex folk guitar patterns and fast picking display exquisite technique and an advanced determination to explore art beyond music theory. Listen how the distorted guitars play the same motif using dissonant shapes. Lend your ear to the circular scale-embroidery of the bass. Tómarúm’s approach is quite unique but abstract enough to challenge your perceptions. Their decision to follow this with ‘Condemned to a Life of Grief’ is a wise one. It may be ten minutes in length, but it glitters through an atmospheric wave of sorrow masquerading as avant-garde black metal. The guitar chords are dense and contain more melody than their amp settings should allow. On repeat listens you might detect a Pain of Salvation vibe from the Remedy Lane era in the way the anguish throbs behind a superficial layer of elation. Of course, they bombard us with a bewildering number of drum fills and shredding guitars, but the bass is king here until they slam into a harder thrash edge at the six-minute mark. Taking their cue from Vektor should be the triumphant way to end the song, but the fascination with unorthodox chord shapes falls into the tuneless washing machine mode that occurs when blast beats and dissonant noises become the sole focus of the sonic butchery.
Tómarúm derive their name from the Icelandic word for void, which should tell you everything you need to know about the mood of this record. ‘In This Empty Space’ is a vicious piece of black metal ferocity from the standpoint of technical death metal. Is it tuneless or genius? Does it need to be one or the other? Adding a fretless bass solo and changing the tempo when you least expect it keep things interesting enough to persevere, but it’s still a persevering experience. And what type of listener enjoys testing the limits of their patience? Even the standout track, ‘Where No Warmth is Found’, has its limitations, despite its admirable funereal tone and technical wizardry. Clearly, the bass player has the loudest voice in the band. Again, he works through the ascending and descending patterns as if lost in thought. Sparkling piano notes and blast beats embrace each other like distant cousins among the heavier death metal elements. It’s easy to get carried away by the momentum here.
Unfortunately, Tómarúm end the record with the two longest cuts that are also the most complex. Be prepared for an album within an album on Ash in Realms of Stone Icons. These last two compositions alone take up twenty-six minutes of the one-hour running time. ‘As Black Forms from Grey’ challenges your scepticism about the band’s ability to match Wilderun. Maybe they can, and their Opeth interludes and harmonised vocals suggest they could be more than just a musician’s band. Cut out the preoccupation with unsettling monotone guitar chords and this music could appeal to a wider audience. The same goes for ‘Awake into Eternal Slumber’, but you’re already exhausted by this point and won’t care much for anything when you see the fifteen-minute duration appear on your streaming dashboard. That’s a shame because the mixture of technical thrash and bombastic black metal receive a more generous treatment here with an abundance of contemplative space in between the bludgeoning. You almost feel guilty for wanting it to finish, but that’s what happens when you’re at the end of your endurance limits.
One cannot deny the imagination and ambition of Ash in Realms of Stone Icons. Few debut records would dare to explore something as epic as this in the progressive black metal realm, and maybe this mixture of naivety and fearlessness is what makes it enchanting enough to keep you nodding your head. If only repeat listens did not diminish the quality of this experience. Your mind will wander with alarming frequency and send you into banal daydreams that have nothing to do with the extreme metal pumping through your earphones. Tómarúm will need to correct this flaw on their sophomore effort.
Release Date: 06/05/2022
Record Label: Prosthetic Records
Standout tracks: Condemned to a Life of Grief, Where No Warmth is Found, As Black Forms from Grey
Suggested Further Listening: Haunter – Disincarnate Ails (2022), Wilderun – Veil of Imagination (2019), Altarage – Succumb (2021)