“The idea of purgatory, just imagine being infinitely stuck—that sucks, man.”
That’s Tomb Mold guitarist Derrick Vella on “Infinite Resurrection,” the fourth track on the Toronto death metal quartet’s new record Planetary Clairvoyance. “I guess that’s how people feel when they grow old and something happens to them and they’re on life support. They’re like, ‘I can’t do anything. Being alive is worse than being dead.’ Stuff like that freaks me out.”
True to its name, Clairvoyance is a record fueled by arcane, eternal forces—rebirth, mutation, consumption, the infinite purgatory we call deep space. Planets eat themselves whole (“Planetary Clairvoyance”), entire populations get vaporized and reborn in an endless cycle of agony (“Beg For Life”), alien viruses wreak havoc on human bodies (“Infinite Resurrection”).
“I didn’t want it to be suicidal in tone, but more like complete annihilation of everything—a cleaning of the astral slate, where everything around you decomposes, everything dissolves into nothing,” says Vella, who co-wrote the album alongside drummer/vocalist Max Klebanoff, Tomb Mold’s other core member. “The first track [‘Beg For Life’] is the beginning of that process, ‘Cerulean [Salvation]’ is the actual act of it happening, and ‘Heat Death’ is the aftermath.”
On Clairvoyance, Tomb Mold make a bold proposal: the only thing scarier than death is immortality. “Resurrection,” a track partially inspired by Dan Simmons’s novel Hyperion, deals with constant mutation as “a weapon for an alien race that’s greater than you,” as Vella puts it. It’s also a reflection of our own reality, “when we’re stuck in these situations [where] you compromise, and you compromise, and you change things about yourself until you aren’t yourself anymore,” says Vella. “You’re constantly changing, but not for the better.”
Clairvoyance is not exactly progressive death metal, but it does move in a more intricate direction when compared to their last two records. It’s definitely their most ambitious work, bringing complexity to their ooze. They recognize growth is vital. Vella’s playing is still thick, but it’s an indomitable blob that’s nimble now, a burlier take on Cynic, a band which he quipped are “as New Age as you can get with death metal.”
“The thing that’s so cool about death metal is how imaginative it can be, there’s no real barriers. It’s not so much that we have to stray from the norm, but I like the idea that you can just do whatever you want,” Vella says.
Finnish death metal has always been an influence, and Clairvoyance is fittingly imbued with Demilich’s slime-ridden, beyond weird spirit. The new wave of OSDM started out in death metal’s origins, mining from the simpler stylings of Obituary, Cianide, and Autopsy. Clairvoyance is something more like Death’s Human or Individual Thought Patterns, when death metal began to branch out and take on more complex forms.
“As we’re progressing, we really want to wrap our heads around stepping in a more complex territory and boosting our technicality,” Klebanoff says. “I don’t wanna say that the final product is better if it’s more technical, but we’re just in our weird zone where we’re just playing as hard as we can, let’s keep pushing and pushing until we hit whatever the endgame is in this progression.”
The fear of mediocrity is an important engine for Clairvoyance, and in discussing that, Vella bring up Some Kind of Monster, the award-winning documentary chronicling Metallica’s tumultuous recording process for 2003’s St. Anger. It’s really more of a tragic comedy; Lars Ulrich’s bad Eminem dye job, his father’s infamous “Delete that” line, and the band’s bumbling rage throughout are simultaneously sad and hilarious. Tomb Mold’s takeaway from the film: stay true to yourself, and don’t make a shitty record.
“There’s that scene where Lars is having a nervous breakdown watching Jason Newsted’s new band [Echobrain] play because he’s like, ‘Fuck, Metallica’s not cool anymore,’” says Vella. And it’s like, yeah, you’re right. You convinced yourself you weren’t, and you made St. Anger. Can you just imagine toiling away at something for so long, and that’s your outcome? That would just break me,” he says. “We all deal with fears and anxieties like that—indifference is a terrible feeling too.”
Tomb Mold are on a hell-bent track: Clairvoyance is their third record in three years, their last one, Manor of Infinite Forms, is barely a year old; and they snuck the Cerulean Salvation tape, containing early versions of Clairvoyance’s title track and “Cerulean Salvation,” in between. They put out material at such a rapid pace, indifference is nearly impossible. Pretty remarkable considering that Vella and Klebanoff initially set out only to make demos.
“I really wanted it to be self-sustaining, it’s like a little microcosm,” Klebanoff says. “Wanted to push forward and wanting to be our band and not have too many outside bodies dictating us is an exciting thing.”
Vella adds: “I treat the band like we’re on borrowed time. There’s no guarantee we can keep doing this for years: we wanna crank out as much cool shit as possible before the wheels come off.” Or before “Heat Death” becomes a case of life imitating art.