Mike Hill is not a man interested in appeasing his existing audience or modifying the music he makes in the hope of luring in a broader one. Anyone doubting this needs only to look to the recorded output Tombs has dropped over the past decade, which while ultimately remaining rooted in the blackened, post-metallic sound vomited up on 2007's self-titled EP has constantly diversified and evolved. With The Grand Annihilation, Tombs' fourth full-length and Metal Blade debut, this tradition is maintained, and in many ways it is the most epic, ambitious, emotionally and tonally varied of the band's career, which is very much borne out in the subject matter. "The title comes from the idea of destroying the current world to open the door for the new world," Hill states. "The Hindus tap into this cyclical nature of the universe. The idea of Kali Ma, destroying the universe to create a new reality is a key theme both in a more universal sense and also on a personal level of destroying your own personal worlds to create a new chapter."
Following up the band's last full-length, 2014's Savage Gold, Hill had his work cut out for him, acknowledging that it was "the closest we came to realizing what I thought the band should sound like." Showcasing a more brutal, extreme side of the band, it hit home hard - and the touring cycles that followed saw them being embraced by ever bigger crowds. Longtime fans will be aware that many musicians have come and gone from Tombs' ranks over the course of the band's existence, most recently augmented by drummer Charlie Schmid (Vaura/Karyn Crisis' Gospel Of The Witches) and guitarist Evan Void (Hivelords/Ominous Black), who joined in 2014. However, while some bands might stumble with their lineup being in a state of constant flux, this has never been an issue for Tombs, and with good reason. "This may sound like hubris but it's the truth: Tombs has always been my singular vision and the members are almost interchangeable," Hill states plainly. "I've had members come and go, and while the people involved in the band bring their own interpretation of my specific vision, it's not a collaborative effort, really. I put in the required time to create the songs: hours, days, weeks, months; whatever it takes. The other members add their parts, but I make all of the final decisions about the material." The latest incarnation of the band made their recorded debut with 2016's All Empires Fall EP, and while that provided "a snapshot" of where the band were headed going into The Grand Annihilation, Hill will never overtly sign post what the Tombs sound presently is or where it might be headed. "The last thing I want to do is remain in one place too long. I want to continually evolve and challenge myself, and I take a disciplined approach to writing, setting aside time on a weekly basis to collect ideas. I say collect because I often times feel like the ideas are out there in the ether and I am just channeling them. In a way, I don't really know where the band is headed creatively because I feel like I'm following a path that is slowly being revealed to me." Letting the songs come as and when inspiration hits him is integral to Hill's process, and this accounts in part for The Grand Annihilation's diversity. The blasting, scathing yet melodic black metal savagery of opener "Black Sun Horizon" and "Way Of The Storm" are very much built to destroy, while wielding a poignancy that is undeniable - both of which stand in strong contrast to the uncomfortable post-punk squall of "Underneath" that showcases Hill's Nick Cave/Ian Curtis-esque singing voice, while the likes of the throbbing "Saturnalian" and unnerving tribal thunder of "Walk With Me In Nightmares" stand in categories all of their own. In fact, every track on The Grand Annihilation stands separate from those around it, yet it is a cohesive collection, and at no point do the stylistic twists and turns undermine its coherence. "If you've been following Tombs, you probably know to expect the unexpected, and I always strive to present a full range of emotion on everything with the band's name on it. That said, this is a very dark and introspective record that digs deep into the common ideas of mortality, infinity and cosmic mysteries. I've always been fascinated with the dark side and things that remain hidden, and when I was younger I wrote more about personal feelings, about emotions and specific situations in my life. As I matured, I wanted to write about broader themes that more people can relate to and tap into a sort of collective consciousness. The lyrics on the new record are a celebration of freedom through embracing the dark side. Once you realize that you follow the dark path, the path of the individual, there is a certain feeling of liberation that accompanies it."
When it came time to track the record, Hill once again enlisted Erik Rutan, whose production discography includes seminal releases from Cannibal Corpse, Soilent Green, Belphegor and his own Hate Eternal. "'Savage Gold' was our first time working with Erik, who has been a tremendous influence on me in the way I approach guitar playing and production. At the time, I knew that record was the first step on a path that would see us working together for many years, and taking what we learned from that record we were able to grow from it going into 'The Grand Annihilation'." The record's rich yet unfussy production ensures every song comes to life as if caught in the moment of its creation, crackling with energy and emotion and standing them apart from the plethora of bands with overly compressed, polished - and ultimately muted - additions to their catalogs. But then it's hard to imagine Tombs sounding anything but real, and Hill's ultimate motivation will always underpin this. "Music and rhythm have always been part of human rituals. Ancient people made music and art to connect to something that they felt existed on a higher level, and I always try to achieve this in that which I create."