With 2013’s Red Skies and Dead Eyes it was apparent that Norway’s Tombstones had joined a select and elite class of musicians who seemed to improve and progress with each subsequent release. Red Skies and Dead Eyes was an immense, earth-quaking album from start to finish that upped the ante in terms of songwriting and musicianship. After spending a few weeks with the band’s upcoming fourth full-length, Vargariis, it’s safe to report that Tombstones have not only matched the obliterating heft found on their standout albums Year of the Burial and Red Skies and Dead Eyes, but they have miraculously somehow managed to make their largest leap stylistically and compositionally. Vargariis finds the Oslo three-piece plummeting into a blackened abyss and unleashing their darkest and heaviest material to date.
The most striking element of Vargariis is how unbelievably immense the album sounds. It’s simply monstrous. Once the feedback begins to wane on the album opener, “Barren Fields,” Tombstones unload a sonorous assault of riffs and percussive battery that is almost unprecedented in their discography. The first thing that comes to mind is the seismic aural attack of Belfast’s Slomatics. The remainder of the album isn’t quite as heavy as the opener, but it comes extremely close.
Though Tombstones have increased their overall heft and expanded their tunes compositionally they have also expanded their sonic palette. Vargariis finds the band stretching their tunes out to even greater lengths and incorporating more blackened elements into their repertoire. “Oceans of Consciousness,” for example, kicks off at a furious, blasting pace before settling into a more familiar Tombstones-like groove. At over ten minute in length “Oceans of Consciousness” barely edges out the other five tunes for longest song length, but Tombstones are able to keep things interesting with shifts in tempo and a few returns to the blasting onslaught that opened the track.
With a release date set for December 4, 2015 it is safe to say that, without a doubt, Vargariis is one of the heaviest albums of the year. And though the band has adopted a darker, grimmer sonic approach the band has not abandoned their love of heavy, mesmerizing riffs. Returns to bluesy, laidback stoner jams also surface on the latter half of “Oceans of Consciousness” and are embedded throughout the album closer “Pyre of the Cloth.” Fans of Tombstones will not be disappointed and Vargariis will undoubtedly garner new fans. Vargariis is a triumph in every way.