Who Are…Tombs

Joe Gross

By Joe Gross

on 06.06.11 in Who Is...?s

File under: Blackened, Brooklyn, sludgy metalpunk — the perfect soundtrack to stopping an F Train with your face

For fans of: Neurosis, Kylesa, Indian, Mastodon, and Swans

From: Brooklyn

Personae: Mike Hill (guitar/vocals), Carson Daniel James (bass), Andrew Hernandez (drums)

Mike Hill is old school. The 42-year old Hudson Valley native has been in bands for decades, from the Boston/NYC metalcore act Anodyne, which ripped off faces from 1997-2005, to the post-metallic Versoma to Tombs, which Hill assembled in 2008. Their second album for Relapse Records, Path of Totality, melts together three decades of metal, punk and Goth rock into a single, flailing roar.

At the same time, Hill runs Black Box Recordings and has engineered records for such world-beaters as Isis, Burnt By the Sun and American Nightmare. He’s also written for Brooklyn Vegan, is a devout blogger and started an irregular podcast. In underground hard rock’s endless game of “Survivor,” Hill is a living idol to immunity — a very safe bet for the last man standing.

eMusic’s Joe Gross talked with Hill — who manages to be both straight-faced and fannishly enthusiastic about his life in heavy music — about the New Wave of Recombinant Heavy Metal, David Lynch and how Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist ties into false metal.

On the multifaceted roots of Tombs’ sound:

Initially, I was a big metalhead: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, AC/DC. When I was 13, in about 1980, I got really into hardcore, then got back into metal with Slayer, Metallica, Testament, all the thrash stuff. I’ve always been attracted to hardcore that had more of a metallic vibe or a more sinister sound. Black Flag is one of my favorite bands, and they had that sinister, discordant approach, like fast Sabbath. I was listening to death metal and black metal kind of concurrently — Venom, Bathory, that sort of thing. I was really heavily influenced by bands like Bauhaus, Joy Division, the Cure, Swans and Fields of the Nephilim, that sort of dark pop. I was pretty fanatical about that stuff and it became another thing that’s crept into the mix.

On David Lynch and “drilling down”:

I’m really inspired by David Lynch’s approach to filmmaking and his book Catching the Big Fish, where he deals with using transcendental meditation to really tap into a well of creativity. I would take my notes and just start drilling down to find a more honest place to write from. It’s hard to write lyrics that aren’t influenced by obvious themes like relationships and your personal life and politics. I wanted to go deeper than that. The themes on Path of Totality have more to do with facing the unknown and stepping into total darkness, where you have no knowledge of what lies beyond. When apocalypse comes, it’s not some huge fist that comes down and destroys everything; it might just be the end of the cycle of man.

On journalism and podcasting:

Podcasting just seemed like the next step. It’s a chance for me to get together with my friends and talk about stuff we like. But I also got together some of the interviews I’ve done with people I respect such as Henry Rollins and Keith Morris. The transcript of that Keith Morris interview is about 42 pages long, we talked for like two hours. The text versions of the interviews are great, but the audio captures more of the emotional component.

On the inadvertent hilarity of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist (the first lyric on “Black Hole of Summer” is “CHAOS REIGNS!!!!”, the same line spoken by the fox in Antichrist):

The first time I saw Antichrist, I was at the IFC in New York and I laughed out loud at [the fox] scene. I saw that film with a bunch of people who are art film fans and were not fans of horror movies. These sort of people had built it up to be a really intense scene, and I laughed. I am a huge fan of genre films, so it was not that intense to me. There’s something similar going on in music, with indie rock bands flirting with metal and extreme music, where they think they’re being hip. They’re not coming from metal, but they’re wearing the trappings of extreme music, so there’s this weird lightweight quality to what they do.

But the more I thought about the scene and the movie, the more I thought it was making the point that nature is a brutal, chaotic force, there’s no real harmony in nature. Nature is a struggle without rules, the sort of rules and laws that our society puts up. The reality is that I could go out into the street and bludgeon somebody to death. I’d have to suffer the consequences of that, but there’s nothing literally stopping me from doing that.