Indonesia has a thriving grindcore scene, but its black metal underground is more of an unknown force. Tombstone started writing and recording music as far back as 2005, but it took them fifteen years to release their debut album, The Awakening of Darkness, in 2021. Now, the duo return with their second effort in three years, and every household in their country should be scared. This is the transgressive sound of the Norwegian black metal that caused a moral panic in the 1990s. The fact that it comes from the country with the world’s largest Muslim population is even more astonishing.
Extreme metal duos are rarer than you think – Darkthrone, Anaal Nathrakh, Godflesh. The list is not an extensive one. With black metal, you expect a duo to be a bedroom project with little understanding or care for the mixing and mastering of the music. Aside from excess reverb, the artists in this scene seldom use any other plug-in effects, nor do they bother to clean up the microphone hiss or the screech of the guitar gain. Tombstone’s aesthetic is no different, but they produce a menacing art that thrives on its simplicity and emotional grief. Opener, ‘Wolfsbane’, operates on that dry distortion that can vibrate through your skull if you forget to twitch your ears every so often. Dissonant arpeggio shapes give way to the inevitable tremolo riff after an extended intro of one minute and forty-three seconds. Howling vocal shrieks emanate from the microphone like canines in the distant forest – that’s the reverb effect as much as anything. You only need to ask one question: is this music harsh and hostile? Answer: yes.
The frenzy of blast beats and ugly guitars in ‘Disillusionize’ provide the apoplectic violence synonymous with black metal. But Tombstone stay clear of the “washing machine metal” syndrome with some impressive double-kick footwork from the drummer and a welcome crunch of palm-muted guitars when your mind begins to wane. You’d believe it if the press release said they recorded the vocals in an abandoned nickel mine in their home country. The image of a corpse-painted man barking at the moon comes to mind with every exsanguination of the lung. Listen to the impalpable tremolo rhythms in ‘Vain’ – could you sit through 06:36 of this chaos? For the vocals alone, yes, but the drummer rides the double-bass pedal to keep things interesting. The grinding guitar downstrokes at the four-minute mark remind you that this music has a nominal layer of death metal in its foundations.
Tombstone are no amateurs when it comes to self-producing their art. The mix here is simple in its spatial awareness and determination to capture the agony of a restless soul. If they are guilty of anything, it’s extending their compositions beyond their natural limit. ‘Into the Woods’ could end at seven minutes after a pulverising tour de force through Darkthrone’s early transgressions and the death-doom of Hooded Menace. You can identify genuine melody in the sorrows of their fastest guitar passages, but they stretch it to nearly nine minutes. It’s a relief when they follow this up with a slower ceremony of dissonant doom on ‘Guardians of Land and Sea’. You’d agree if somebody said this is the sound of the biblical apocalypse on tape. We should all be fearful of judgement day if it sounds like this.
It must be difficult to scream and play guitar with such an intensity of strumming, and one assumes Tombstone define their integrity by their refusal to play live. Might we call their type of black metal a melancholy form of grindcore? ‘Far to the North’ is frantic enough to pass for an Immortal song and visceral enough to appeal to Mayhem’s fanbase. See if you can sit through the ten minutes of closing track, ‘To the Existence of Light’, without a hiccup. It’s easier than you think if you can survive the dry distortion and frost-bitten atmospherics.
Indonesia is a fertile country for extreme metal, and it seems the black metal scene is no exception. You’ll enjoy this album if your tastes gravitate towards the old school. It offers little in the way of originality, but the genre needs its custodians as well as its innovators.
Release Date: 01/03/2023
Record Label: Gutter Prince Cabal
Standout tracks: Wolfsbane, Vain, Guardians of Land and Sea
Suggested Further Listening: Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon (1993), Vinterland – Welcome My Last Chapter (1996), Immortal – At the Heart of Winter (1999)