Album Review: Tomb Mold - Planetary Clairvoyance

Hot on everyone’s minds right now are Tomb Mold, Toronto’s Bloodborne-infused flagship death metal band. They are currently reigning supreme once again this summer with their third full-length, titled Planetary Clairvoyance, which is debuting alongside a North American tour. Their sophomore record, Manor of Infinite Forms, released a year ago in similar fashion alongside an admittedly smaller set of shows, but nonetheless to high critical acclaim. That record showed up on a healthy amount of “year in review” lists and still champions record players around the country, so let’s see if the pattern will once more continue with this new release as 2019 begins to close.

Tomb Mold used to be kings of the underground, back when founding duo Derrick Vella and Max Klebanoff were sole members. This band era, defined mostly by the raw, cavernous sound on their initial demos and debut Primordial Malignity, is oftentimes cherished by old school ghouls who have been following the duo since their inception.

Planetary Clairvoyance propels Tomb Mold into an entirely new era which sees them move away from the claustrophobic treasure of their initial releases and rather further towards the cleaner end of the metal music spectrum. Alongside this change are two new permanent member additions, being Steve Musgrave on bass and Payson Power on guitar. While the musical intricacies haven’t necessarily changed all too much, Planetary Clairvoyance hosts a cleaner production, which ultimately hinders the album’s stopping power. We are still lightyears away from what one might call that horribly-squeaky-clean “modern metal production”, but the sound of the album still leaves a lot to be desired here, especially when running the record front-to-back.

Furthermore, the two most well-rounded songs on the release, being the title track as well as “Cerulean Salvation”, emerge from a previously released demo of the latter’s name. This teaser release featured primitive versions of these tracks in terms of their arrangement, but most importantly, in terms of their production. These two tracks included on the Cerulean Salvation demo are packed to the brim with a thick guitar tone, sleazy-sounding bass, and caveman-esque vocals dripping with reverb. This is the Tomb Mold I know and love. In comparison, Planetary Clairvoyance feels empty. The release feels like a vacant shell of what used to be. It also doesn’t bode well when two of your album’s most popular tracks were already released to the public six months earlier.

Now, the songwriting remains strong here. Tracks like “Accelerative Phenomenae”, “Beg for Life”, and the two aforementioned demo cuts all nonetheless satisfy whatever Tomb Mold-related hunger you may have acquired since their last release. Displayed here are intricate riffs, cryptic solos, and morbid compositions that are top-notch; I just can’t get over the flat production.

Unfortunately, the remaining unmentioned tracks, namely “Phosphorene Ultimate” and “Heat Death”, are a step-down quality-wise in comparison to the band’s impenetrable back catalogue. Tomb Mold have never leaned favourably towards separate ambient interlude tracks, barring some short intros and outros here and there, of course. However, Planetary Clairvoyance introduces a three-minute transition number, which contains nothing more than an ambient atmosphere coupled with fleshy alien noises. While the track does add to the release on the first few spins, it got skipped on 90% of my recent playthroughs.

Furthermore, “Heat Death”, the epic album closer, well… fails to be all that epic. The longer song emulates that of “Two Worlds Become One” which closed 2018’s Manor of Infinite Forms in delightful fashion. That particular song was also longer, building up with a soft acoustic guitar intro, with grand riffs and vocal structures included. I know it’s an overdone clichéd statement, but this album-closer had a hooky-as-hell earworm riff that made you want to play the album all over again. Heck, I can hear this song playing in my head and it’s pulling me in for another playthrough. “Heat Death” pales in comparison to the aforementioned behemoth. That snappiness and musical lust-invoking nature is missing, and the track doesn’t do too much to make me need to replay the album.

Planetary Clairvoyance just doesn’t get me as excited as the band’s first two releases do. The song arrangements are there, the album cover sets the scene wonderfully, and there aren’t any massive red flags waving in front of me as a reviewer, but this release simply feels flat and uninspiring, due to the many little things mentioned above. In addition, the complaint I made regarding the band’s production shift towards a cleaner sound is an increasingly popular qualm among fans, so I’m not alone here. It will be interesting to see where Tomb Mold takes their future releases. Will they re-coat themselves in grime to appeal to old-school fans or continue towards a cleaner production suitable for radio play?

Hunter Walwaski is the co-host of The Iron Club, which airs on CJLO every Thursday at 1:00 PM.