Here I am, quill clenched betwixt my inksplatttered teeth as I clamber into the tub. Advent Varic's Tumulus tumbles, rapidly and raucously, into my earholes. Perfectly on cue, blood pours from my nostrils as the sky burns. In other words: all is not well. Sorry, I mean: all is well. Fuck.
Why the tub? Two reasons. Firstly, as a clear Side A/Side B concept album, this beast offers a duo of twenty minute tracks, constructed and delivered as a single blackened stoner symphony. My attention span lasts about as long as this fragile soap bubble before me, so I'm admittedly out of my comfort zone. Secondly, it's damn comfortable, and if I'm going to witness the world collapse into inferno, I might as well do so from here, where the fires of civilization's demise will prevent this bathwater from going lukewarm. For those of you not privy to the expanded universe of Advent Varic lore, here's the gist: these extraterrestrial marauders were birthed from the muck of the titular far-flung world of Tumulus, and have since wrecked havoc across the universe on a cosmic mission of destruction at the bidding of the Godlike entity known as Varic. Our beloved homeworld is, alas, the next link in their chain of brutalistic annihilation. Concept albums live and die by the strength and flexibility of their narrative, and here, Advent Varic have given themselves ample room to experiment. Let's see where that takes us.
While releases wielding the “blackened doom” tag are admittedly few and far between, what I have heard tends to follow along the lines of “doom with blackened vocals.” Think, I dunno, Dopethrone, or maybe Novembers Doom. A genuine melding and mashing of the composite genres is seldom represented, but here, Advent Varic truly feels like the center of a very particular venn diagram. The instrumentation, while played at a pace appropriate for doom, is a little too sinister for those looking for a quick jaunt down the fuzz train. The atmosphere is sharp and harsh, the leads jagged and somewhat startling in their aggression. That said, Advent Varic’s world isn’t one of cold vacuum and frostbitten exterior: both tracks herein are utterly drenched in tumultuous melodic currents. Imagine Vattnet Viskar if, instead of embracing the atmospherics, they fell headfirst towards the violent end of the spectrum.
Lest it be forgot, there’s a definite prog edge as well, effectively recalling--intentionally or not--the grandiose expanse of, say, RUSH's 2112. A couple licks buried in the flesh of Side A carry themselves with that hefty-yet-jubilant Lifeson bounce. The songwriting itself displays a distinctly proggy temperament as well. There’s a compositional tendency to flit between moments and passages just before they establish themselves as motifs--a riff here, a melody there, rising and sinking before they become mantra-esque. Although the overlap in genre is obviously a stretch, it's a comparison I simply can’t shake loose. In any case, if they can bear the Captain's blackened expulsions, fans of progressive rock and/or metal will find something worth perusing in the depths of Tumulus. So too will the doomsters, the weedians, the shrouded follow-the-smoke-to-the-riff-filled-landers, albeit for a different set of qualities. While occasionally taking a turn for the exploratory, there are some thick riffs proudly and effortlessly on display. Side A in particular boasts a catalog of headbangable fuzz-ridden stoner fare, while Side B does admittedly feel more, at time, like an acid-fueled nightmare than the tamer alternative. And this, of course, in the best sense of the phrase. If there is one thing in this piece I would have liked to see, it would be increased continuity between the sides, perhaps via a greater quantity, early on, of the high-pitched leads that interject throughout Side B. With that said, I greatly appreciate a slow and deliberate buildup, which is accomplished in spades herein.
Generally speaking, Side A is somewhat classical in its doom approach, leaning a little more heavily on the staying power of the central riffs it applies across the breadth. Side B, in comparison, is a brief glimpse into the insanity that naturally occurs once society, as we know it, encounters its demise. This is fury and fire and cosmic brimstone, but planetary destruction doesn’t come without moments of tranquility. At its most raw and viscerally emotive, Tumulus takes the harebrained intensity of Sigh and weaves it into a tapestry of Thou-ian despair. But then the fray is interrupted by the occasional psychedelic passage--a galactic spacewalk, if you will--or perhaps a bass-heavy foray into leaden waters.
From an instrumental perspective, there isn’t a standout performance per se, given that everyone does what they do without calling undue attention to themselves. The bass is deliciously present, the drums maintain interest without falling head-over-heels into the audience’s gullet--although the cymbals do admittedly get a tad omnipresent at times. The layered guitar also stays in its lane--a feat unto itself, given the seemingly chaotic nature of Advent Varic’s lush approach to melody and hooks. Thus, if there is a standout performance here, it is Captain Graves and his vitriolic vocal tone. It’s damn hard to hit that balance between delicate dynamism and outright rage, but here, everything falls into place. Perhaps the highest praise I can place on the vox is the fact that whenever it isn’t present, I genuinely find myself yearning for the sheer anguish it exudes. The moment in the very beginning of Side A where the vocals first emerge on top of that plodding riff? Damn. That potent combination of power and pain is what first drew this particular scribe to harsh vocals and to heavy music. You love to see it. You love to hear it. Virtually every moment across Tumulus where the vocals fire up after instrumental reflection provides a similar feeling of melancholy and hurt and chest-beating catharsis. For all the praise Advent Varic gets for methodical and intentional songwriting prowess, they should be praised for their ability to maintain consistency in the emotion department.
But all of this is incomplete without, well, the completion. If you happen to be familiar with the original iteration of Tumulus, this made-for-vinyl version includes an eight minute outro that serves to drive home the purely destructive intent. If you’re here to eat popcorn whilst watching the world burn, these eight minutes are the creme de la creme--a wild cacophony of instrumentation far beyond the scope of the ordinary. If you’re expecting something in particular, this sure as hell ain’t it. Squealing saxophone, wild displays of acrobatic dissonance, sudden bursts of nausea-inducing rhythm. The dramatic swell of opretic cleans buried amidst the disarray. It’s a gradual climb into unadulterated chaos, but all the while, it’s clear that Advent Varic are holding the reins with vicious intent. Side B demonstrates a climax in the purest sense of the word, and, as Tumulus fades to black, there’s little more to do than stand in awe of what hath been furiously wrought.
And here I am, miraculously still in the tub, surrounded by rubble and the smouldering remains of the Sleeping Village as we know it. A raven tumbles from the sky. My fellow scribes are, alas, reduced to ash, and, like unto a Lovecraftian protagonist, I’ll keep scribbling into this good night as the encroaching nightmare descends. I’ll be honest--I have listened to Tumulus in its various iterations a great many times since Advent Varic first entered the arena. Every time, I am struck by the capacity of this metal symphony as a whole to consume the listener--while memorable moments abound, I’m always left with the impression of having witnessed something beyond the scope of my singular existence. In this sense, Tumulus is disturbingly compelling--a nightmare in which I find myself comfortably languishing. Needless to say, if this high-water mark is where Advent Varic’s voyage begins, allow me the moment to shed a tear for the yet-to-be vaporized.
Advent Varic - Tumulus will be released March 31st from Fuzzy Cracklins Presents (US) and Interstellar Smoke Records (EU). The BLACK HOLE EDITION 180g vinyl preorder is currently available here--at the time of this writing, there were only 25 copies left, so seriously don’t delay if you are looking to pick this beaut up.
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.