Written by Kep
Tribal Gaze – The Nine Choirs
> Death metal
> Texas, US
> Releasing September 16
> Maggot Stomp Records
Last year I tweeted this about Tribal Gaze’s debut release Godless Voyage in my thread of best EPs of 2021: “You know why there’s no mountains in Texas? Because Tribal Gaze and their massive fucking riffs destroyed them all. Utter devastation via fat riffs and huge production. This thing unquestionably rules and I need a full-length ASAP.”
As it turns out there actually are mountains in Texas, but the point stands: Tribal Gaze were laying waste to state-sized portions of countryside in 2021 with their brand of mammoth death metal. They’re back now with their first full-length album, and if Godless Voyage was heavy enough to destroy mountains, The Nine Choirs might just level the whole damn continent.
The Nine Choirs is right in line with what you’d expect from a Maggot Stomp band—dumb heavy death metal tinged with bits of hardcore influence—but its most singular feature is simply how BIG it feels. Yes, it’s got caveman grooves for days, and yes, there are beatdown passages that will inspire aspiring crowdkillers for years to come, and yes, there are wailing and ripping guitar solos with surprising depth of substance, but seriously, it all just feels so goddamn massive. Every riff is larger than life and the production supports it with colossal tones that are full and resonant 100% of the time. There’s no getting around it: this is an album built to steamroll shit.
The stars of the show are the riffs of guitarists Ian Kilmer and Quintin Stauts. Their style is a balance of delightfully sinister lines and bludgeoning chugs, often juxtaposed directly against each other as in the first section of opener “Cold Devotion”. A menacing bit of minor interval melodic motion descends and turns in against itself before bottoming out into brutal chug and then cycling back to do it all again. Their work is surprisingly nuanced for what you could easily refer to as caveman shit, too; check out those delicious low string trills in the verse riff of lead single “And How They Wept for Eternity”, and the way that those trills decorate and develop ideas that were already set out in the opening. Kilmer and Stauts also know when to lay back and let their riffs breathe a bit, as they do in “To Gather in Its Presence”. The front section of that track is a quick-moving OSDM sort of deal, which then moves into a slower riff for the verse that’s got more space between chugs. These sorts of moments bring more attention to the vocals, so that every roar is like a heavyweight blow to the stomach.
Speaking of the vocals, McKenna Holland shows out and firmly establishes himself as the clear-cut best frontman on the Maggot Stomp roster. His growls are downright primal, his hardcore-influenced hoarse shouts command attention, and every roared syllable feels like he delivered it by ripping it barehanded from his own guts. Like the rest of the instruments it’s a substantial sound, and it measures up to that immense full band texture with ease. The rhythm section of Cesar De Los Santos (drums) and Zachary Denton (bass) is rock solid too, though the musical style by its nature doesn’t give them many opportunities to really show off. I do think De Los Santos’ ride bell grooves are perfection (there’s a cymbal groove in “Worthless Offering” that’s goddamn infectious), and in general his hits feel as weighty as sledgehammer blows. Denton’s best moments are when he uses that thick clatter-free tone to double the guitars and then break away to a harmony at the high point of the cycle, which deepens the overall texture to an impressive degree.
The Nine Choirs is nine tracks and 36 minutes long, which is about the perfect length for this sort of death metal. While much of the songwriting is very strong, this isn’t exactly breaking down the borders of the genre, and so there are some moments that feel a bit run of the mill despite the impeccable production and overall high level of headbang-worthiness. Penultimate track “Jungle Rituals” is the most notable example; it feels filler-ish, and there are better versions of similar riffs on other tracks in the runtime. Filthy chugs are fun and satisfying anytime, sure, but they only take you so far. I doubt many listeners outside of myself will be complaining, though, because it’s hard to be a hater when you can’t stop moshing around your living room.
But regardless of that, Tribal Gaze have put together a record with plenty of small and big details that push the music to higher places than you’d expect. Minor adjustments to riffs that make sure the repetitions aren’t exact copies, like the subtle pitch change on the downbeat of the second half of the main riff on “Worthless Offering”. Neck-breaking shifts into straight up hardcore shit, like in “With This Creature I Return”. Filthy guitar solos like the one in “Jealous Messiah” that seem to mischievously evoke the sacrilege of the album’s anti-Christianity theme. Tracks that seamlessly blend cavernous evil death metal with shouting beatdown hardcore passages in both the instruments and the vocals, like “As a Thousand Voices Sing”. There’s a shit ton to love here, even if the band isn’t really breaking new ground.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Look, if you love a heavy ass record that will absolutely toss your shit, The Nine Choirs is the album for you. It’s massively destructive and a ton of fun to listen to from top to bottom. Tribal Gaze is unquestionably at the front of modern hardcore-laced death metal, and while it won’t be making my AOTY list, this record might well end up my most-played release of 2022.