Sunday, August 28, 2016

Tomhet: EP & Album Review

Alberta, Western Canada is probably most famous for being home to the award-winning band Nickelback, but just down the road in the small town of High River lurks Tomhet.
Operating under the alias Xaphan, his music couldn’t embody a more polar opposite to the chart topping millennia rockers. 

Since forming in 2004, his one man Black Metal project Tomhet (Swedish for emptiness) has assembled a small cult  following through releasing demos, splits, and albums adding up to roughly 26 releases.

Throughout his career, Xaphan has pitted steel sharp black metal riffing against ambient minimalist synths, in the process widely exploring the styles of both Atmospheric and Depressive Suicidal Black Metal. Determined to not be stuck in the Black Metal box, his more recent efforts have seen him dabbling in Post Industrial music and Dark Electronica (both ‘Caliginous’ releases and the 2014 online EP ‘Anchorazor’).

Sometimes, his decision to dip his toe in new musical pools can draw a dividing line between his listeners. Tomhet’s last release ‘Of A Dying Star’ which was performed only on synthesisers (a concept first explored on ‘Celestial Tranquility’ back in 2009) brought him as much flack as it did praise. But despite the quality of those releases, I for one am relieved to hail the return of the axes to Tomhet’s sound.

Extinction in Time-Lapse review

The 10th Tomhet EP kicks off with a brief yet foreboding passage simply dubbed ‘Intro’ and explodes into the second track, lead by a catchy guitar riff (reminiscent of 90’s era Darkthrone) played over relentless rapid fire blasting drums draped in anguished screams. It then switches to a more sinister chord progression before returning to the main riff once again. It doesn’t stick around too long though and is replaced by a soaring lead line amongst the tornado blasting that fades into a final exhaled breath of distortion.

Third track ‘Blind To Our Demise’ serves as the EP’s mini epic, pummelling programmed drums give way to slow drifting guitar chords that mirror winter fog. A quick drum count  cues up a melody that demands you at least think about putting a noose around your neck even just for a second, soon it all spirals into a dissonant inferno and we are left with nothing but the beautiful noise it leaves behind.

The EP closer ‘This Failing Species’ contains a looped keyboard pattern which evolves into a choir of sorrow while drums pulse beneath like beating hearts, the ensemble builds up to a climax of despair before expiring, leaving a mournful atmosphere long after the music has stopped. 

Overall, ‘Extinction in Time-Lapse’ is a short but solid release that kept my intrigue throughout and had a good balance of the Black Metal and Ambient forces at play. Check it out!


Nightmares in Damask Review

It is difficult to sum up Nightmares in Damask in one word. Depression is of course the obvious word choice but even that doesn’t begin to describe half of it. Put simply, this album doesn’t represent a world where the birds sing joyously come sunrise. 12 years since the project began and the drum machine has been ditched, making Nightmares the first Tomhet release to feature 100% live drums. 
It is also more guitar and vocally driven, leaving the Ambient sections for the bookend tracks.

After a grainy, wind-ridden intro, ‘My Coffin in Her Arms’ saunters in on slightly slower blasts than we’ve come to expect from Tomhet. Taking the speed down a few gears to a crawling pace which sets the tone for the majority of the record, guitar triads bleed like freshly slashed wrists before another round of frantic blasting erupts (this time sounding like the kit is about to fall apart) then disappears into a whisper of amplifier noise. 

On ‘The Heavens Were Soaked In Kerosene’ arpeggiated guitar lines rain down heavily (which make me recall Austere) while grating vocals circle overhead like vultures over a battlefield, both eventually building up into a tormented frenzy. ‘Pit Of Loneliness’ begins with an overspill of feedback into Xaphan’s cries of despair, commanded by one of my favourite riffs on the album which unfortunately doesn’t stick around long enough for me to enjoy it.

‘Through A Tidal Wave Of Panic’ is the album’s angst-ridden centerpiece and certainly lives up to it’s name. Mixing together gentle swaying sections with bursts of medium speed drum blasts, for this track perhaps envision yourself having a calm walk through snow covered forests before some unspeakable terror has seized you and the walk now turns to a fearful sprint. 

Both tracks ‘Calcified, Docile And Confused’ & ‘In Darkness I Hear Their Screams’ uphold the albums’ generally unyielding misanthropic suicidal feelings. While on ‘Clawing Beneath My Sealed Grave’ the vocals bubble away menacingly and the returning guitar triads are saturated in a state of desperate urgency.

This is the first Tomhet record (to my knowledge at least) scattered with much shorter songs than he is normally known for. Upon first listen, their place in the tracklist felt questionable, but after a few spins these short interludes separate the longer tracks well. Since the pace of the album is considerably slow, they add a much needed energy boost and will keep the speed demons content for now.

‘Raining Napalm Molotovs' features a scream that sounds like Xaphan is falling down a well, meanwhile ‘Crucified and Pissed Upon’ & ’Their Shadow Kingdom Ablaze’ both feel like they are about to derail any second, arriving with a clatter of guitar and drums caught up in a Tasmanian devil like blur, both are gone in the blink of an eye.

With a strong sense of dread, ‘The Sky As An Ocean…We drown’ the album’s longest track sticks the keys in the ignition of the hearse and leads a gloomy procession while Xaphan howls in pain. Presumably during all this grey skies send down a mighty storm and the world weeps eternally, powerful stuff. On closing track ‘Exit Us’ droning blackened ambient synthesisers transport us to the very depths of his sprawling cavernous abyss. 

It is heavily apparent that either Xaphan’s drumming still needs to catch up to the drum machine but that still remains to be seen if that is his final goal. I am sure most fans will find it in their blackened hearts to forgive him, either way the addition of live drums certainly will play a large dictating role in how the next release will sound. At times I felt I was missing some cleaner guitar parts which I personally feel could have added more dynamics to the album’s overall aesthetic, but nothing’s perfect. 

I wouldn’t be surprised that come next release another sonic change will have occurred Seeing how often Xaphan has been noted to switch musical paths. As much as I found a lot to love about this full length I would definitely be lying if I considered this to be Tomhet’s strongest work yet considering the quality and diverse material he has released before it. It certainly remains a transitional statement of a record marking a re-birth of the Tomhet sound.

But if you like your Black Metal steak cathartically raw, there can be no doubts in my mind that Nightmares in Damask will satisfy your (Transylvanian) hunger. 


Visit Tomhet’s official bandcamp here

A limited number of cassettes for Extinction in Time-Lapse and Nightmares in Damask are available from Californian label Grey Matter Productions get ‘em while they’re hot!

Also keep those tired eyes peeled for a Tomhet CD release planned with Italian Black Metal label war against yourself

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