Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement (2020)REVIEW

The loosely defined and decidedly unincorporated afterlife of depressive suicidal black metal had found an unlikely minor star in Herr Morbid‘s shot in the dark solo (by necessity) act Forgotten Tomb back in the early 2000’s. Fueled by a late 90’s obsession with distraught black metal bands such as Bethlehem and Dolorian, and melodically informed by everything from Katatonia to the rock music he’d grown up with otherwise, the slow evolution of Forgotten Tomb would curry favor with a new audience with increasing distance from black metallic origins; Extensive and increasingly sludge-attuned dirges that’d develop beyond 2007 held no strong cling to “true” black metal style beyond spirit. Ten albums and twenty years later all that has accumulated under the Piacenza, Italy born trio’s wings defies satisfying enough stylistic definition and/or peer-bound comparison yet the core personality conveyed beneath the veil is unchanged: Insistent in its misanthropic disgust, introverted by nature, and without empathy for the noise and nonsense of the world that surrounds. ‘Nihilistic Estrangement’ is a luxury afforded by Morbid (aka Ferdinando Marchisio) to the listener so that they might join in the revelry of escapism, an attitude that could be considered just as extreme and bewildering as the cult of suicidal catharsis of the early post-millennium scenes he’d once adorned. This tenth album succeeds in conveyance of the unaffected introvert as well as it serves to accumulate twenty years of shifting sands into one many-armed beast of Forgotten Tomb‘s greater dances with dark metal, blackened sludge, black n’ roll and extreme doom metal.

Does that mean it is any good? I figure if you’ve followed Forgotten Tomb through their three distinct points of change within the last two decades most of ‘Nihilistic Estrangement’ will feel warmly familiar or, at least represent a welcome return of some elements that’ve been set aside for the last three records (2012-2017). One could easily argue that the spark of inspiration provided by depressive black metal in the early 2000’s is what Forgotten Tomb are best remembered for and perhaps the closest possible recollection of that auld weightlessness comes on Side B with the title track (“Nihilistic Estrangement”). Here the echoes of Songs to Leave‘ (2002) are heavy with the yearning existential dread of its most devastating pieces (“Solitude Ways”, “Disheartenment”) peeking through and inching towards some of the sensitivity of where Love’s Burial Ground‘ (2004) was headed with decidedly dark metal tracks such as “Alone”. That third album is more or less where I personally discovered this group, catching a live performances as centered around an  impressive quasi medley of the pieces aforementioned in one stunning ~25 minute clip. If that era is where your allegiances lie, I’m guessing you didn’t follow the band beyond ‘Negative Megalomania‘ (2007) where Forgotten Tomb fully moved away from DSBM aspects and began to culture their own sludge/doom metal influenced black metal sound. ‘Nihilistic Estrangement’ is all the more interesting to me personally because it rejuvenates some interest in the project’s early career within that one ~9 minute song and then makes a good argument that I’d better go catch up with the five albums that I’d skipped out on beyond 2007.

‘Nihilistic Estrangement’ is meant to kick off a new chapter beyond a (stylistic but intended) trilogy of albums where Marchisio and the long-standing line-up of Algol (bass) and Asher (drums) took the sludge/stoner grooves of 90’s heavy rock/metal implied on ‘Under Saturn Retrograde‘ (2011) and modulated a different sort of extreme blackened doom metal. In comparing and contrasting the 2012-2017 period of the band with new and old material it begins to appear as a trial by fire intent on finding a voice that’d be better heard by their still extant black metal fandom without alienating themselves in the process, having truly taken to exploring heavy rock, punk, and all manner of influences away from maudlin extreme metal. So, if a new start is the main intent then this tenth album from the trio establishes that stylistic path with some meaning but, more importantly, are the songs any good? If we’re going to chop down a few trees to build this new house it can be plainly stated that Forgotten Tomb are basically still a mid-paced black n’ roll band with eclectic taste, their appeal isn’t solely that combination of style at all but rather the pensive and idiosyncratic approach to songwriting which still finds strength in emotional dirges while attempting to craft sweet pockets of interest by way of swinging stoner metal grooves and desert island delirium (“Iris’ House Pt. I”). When attempting to combine past, present, and future ambitions into one ~40 minute album there are bound to be some endearingly strange juxtapositions of style made, yet ‘Nihilistic Estrangement’ doesn’t stand out for that reason and instead it tends to blend together into similar pace and texture as it plays. Each song has its hook or compelling (read: repeatable) moment, and the lot of them appear written with a well-illustrated purpose in mind but I’ll be damned if it all becomes a bit of salt-heavy stew after some extensive listening.

Intending to create “something detached from all the current trends in terms of style and production” with the goal of a timeless quality Marchisio chose to self-produce while making a point to create an analog render, an earthen recording on vintage equipment where that modus would carry over to Algol‘s mix on an analog mixing desk. This doesn’t translate to any remarkable difference from past works beyond more fully expressed mids that lend some weight to the black metal affected sections of ‘Nihilistic Estrangement’, and a well balanced low end that gives the general mid-pace consistent punch. Unless you’ve cranked the album fairly loud where the presence and ‘grit’ of the recording shine through, I don’t think the analog focused render is going to be a real head turner to the average ear but it does make for a very sharp sounding record. So, Forgotten Tomb have made a proper album that is exactly what they’d intended it to be, a holistic gathering of all traits that is set outside of time and trend (generally speaking). Does that mean you’re going to love it?

I think the odd demographic of the band is yet the hardest part to relate to and resolve, wherein a successful depressive black metal band became even more popular as a black n’ roll/sludge-doom hybrid — I’m not sure the crossover of fandom ever made sense in my mind beyond appreciating the very open-ended verve of their discography thus far. I’d like to think I’m all ears for such a unique take on sub-genre melding but I didn’t find myself reaching for ‘Nihilistic Estrangement’ all that often beyond the first five or six full listens, similar to the reaction I’d had to ‘Negative Megalomania’ back in the day; It is a fine album, well made and memorable yet nothing stands out to the point of a coveted article. I’d probably end up giving it nearly twenty-five full listens and still not have anything too compelling to come away from it with beyond an appreciate for how listenable it is. What sticks with me most in reflection tends to be the clever referential moments within the title track and certain parts of the duo of “Iris’ House” songs. At the very least I can deduce that if you were a fan of the last 4-5 Forgotten Tomb records then this will feel like reasonable step beyond the last few in general. A heightened semblance of their early black metal notions that is generally inspired doesn’t carry the album but when it does pop up the experience becomes easy and ingratiating. A moderate recommendation, I don’t think this is their best record to date but it is certainly a bout of positive change and a well-considered attempt to distill the project’s core identity.

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Artist Forgotten Tomb
Type Full-length
Released May 8, 2020
BUY & LISTEN on Agonia Records’ Bandcamp! Forgotten Tomb on Facebook
Genre Black/Doom Metal,
Blackened Sludge Metal
Dark n’ Roll

Moderate recommendation. 3.5/5.0

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