The autocratic leader of Tombs recognised that the band’s previous album “Savage Gold” (2014) was “the closest we came to realizing what I thought the band should sound like”, so without considering the need for any sort of external input, it was always going to interesting to see where the band went from there for their fourth album release.

Although there clearly is a band there punching out dark rhythms and creating big and thoughtful structures, it’s hard to get away from the idea that there’s one misanthropic man behind, just as you get single man black metal projects. Black metal is the core genre but with elements of post metal and doom. “Cold” has an ominous riff running through it, as Mr Tombs, actual name Mike Hill from New York City, fires off delivery contemptuously in a style akin to Immortal and other Norwegians. The instrumental work is carefully thought through and develops darkly and logically. But “Cold” ends in no man’s land. “Old Wounds” then starts fierily like the opening track “Black Sun Horizon”. The deep threads are again impressive, the guitar pattern is withering and the drum pattern is colourful, before the flames are fanned and the chaos is represented by the heightening tempo. Yet I hear cameos, not overall atmosphere.

The whistling cosmic winds at the start of “November Wolves” bring promise, before Mr Hill growls out his words and in particular “devour” to an intensely dark and repetitive heavy instrumental progression. It’s not particularly subtle but it’s got a melodic pattern and it’s ok to listen to. In fact its structure is almost commercial. Mr Hill then goes into underworld vocal mode – some would call it pagan – to open the repetitively dark “Underneath”. It’s ok but it’s a variant of “November Wolves”, I’d say. More moaning and growling ensue on “Way of the Storm” but this time it’s more dirty and fiery. It still all leads to nothing. Mr Hill places emphasis in his varied vocals on what he considers to be important, but even though the accompanying instrumentals are solid and technically tight, it started to sound the same. “Shadows at the End of the World” and “Saturnalian” are of a modern melodic black metal kind but whilst rhythmic are neither explosive nor imaginative. “Across the cosmic ocean, across the deep blue sea” runs the lyric of the brief but obscure “Walk With Me In Nightmares” – nice drum work but little else. Dark swathes cover “Temple of Mars”, but the creepy, withering pattern and the growling vocals and once again left me cold.

There’s nothing wrong with this album at all, and it lives up to the billing of black metal, but I just couldn’t get excited about it. “The Grand Annihilation” almost tries too hard to be atmospheric while succeeding in following the dark path that Mr Hill promises but for me ticked the boxes of the genre without making any great impression.

(6/10 Andrew Doherty)