Under Sullen Skies

Under Sullen Skies

Since founding Tombs in 2007, vocalist/guitarist Mike Hill has steered the black/post-metal band’s ship through five albums, four EPs, and numerous lineup changes. After assembling his latest crew of musicians—guitarist Matt Medeiros, bassist Drew Murphy, and drummer Justin Spaeth—in 2018, he struck upon the most fully realized version of Tombs with 2020’s Monarchy of Shadows EP and follow-up full-length Under Sullen Skies. “For many years, I’d kind of resigned myself to the fact that I have to do this by myself,” Hill tells Apple Music. “But having a lineup where there’s actual collaboration and working with guys who are talented and committed on a creative level to make the band the best it could be has made things fresh and new again. It’s a really exciting atmosphere to work in right now.” Below, Hill takes us through the songs on Under Sullen Skies.
Bone Furnace “I think the overarching theme on this record is embracing some of the early music that I got into when I was a kid, like Venom and Bathory and Celtic Frost. When I first heard the name Celtic Frost, I thought it was the coolest name for a band, and they had a very deep influence on me—and specifically Tombs. ‘Bone Furnace’ is just kind of digging deep into that influence and then combining that with my basic speculation about destruction and rebirth, about how humanity will decline and something new will take our place.”
Void Constellation “I think this is one of our more thuggish-sounding songs. We’ve got Andy [Thomas] from Black Crown Initiate playing on this one, and I think he’s a brilliant guitar player. I really enjoyed our time touring together when he was playing live with Tombs. His contribution is very melodic, restrained, and tasteful. Lyrically, it’s about pondering other civilizations that might’ve existed prior to man’s arrival on this planet and remnants of that civilization combining with early man to make a different type of human that might be lurking in some hidden recesses somewhere.”
Barren “Justin, our drummer, wrote the majority of this song—the guitar riffs. There’s a very Scorpions/UFO type of outro, and that’s my contribution to the song. I think that Michael Schenker kind of feel fits really well. And then Ray [Suhy] from Six Feet Under played the solo, which is almost a piece of music unto itself. There’s so much in what he contributed that you could just listen to that as a completely separate track and be satisfied.”
The Hunger “Dwid Hellion is doing some guest vocals on this. He and I have a lot of the same interests, and I thought his voice would sound great on this song—and it does. As most people probably suspect, I’m a huge Danzig and Samhain fan, and I came up with this riff that was very much in the vein of the first Danzig record—just dark and blues-influenced. It sort of has this rock ’n’ roll vibe to it, which is very different for Tombs. The lyrics take the concept of vampires, that feeling of isolation and seeking connection with other people but feeling very much alienated from other people at the same time.”
Secrets of the Black Sun “I’ve been wanting to write music like this for about a decade, probably. It sort of combines all of the elements of dark music that I really aspire to create within the band. There’s some heavy guitars, there’s noise, there’s a juxtaposition of this sort of brutality with beauty. Vocally, I’ve been working towards being able to deliver something like this, and I’m happy to say I can sing it live without any issues. We also have Sera Timms from Ides of Gemini on this song—she’s got a great voice, and having her on board to collaborate was an added bonus.”
Descensum “This is a little bit more technical than some of the other songs on the record, but it starts off with a nice ignorant riff at the beginning. Lyrically, the song is about going to hell—literally—like how Lucifer fell from grace and was cast into the abyss. But it’s also about being in someone’s good graces and then, through possibly bad decision-making, being cast out of paradise into the darkness of the void.”
We Move Like Phantoms “That’s an instrumental. I was thinking about Black Flag, and I think I was channeling Greg Ginn somehow in the song. The title comes from…have you ever lived in a house with other people, but you don’t ever run into them? You still feel like you’re alone. During the writing process of this record, I was living in a situation like that. I almost felt like I was vibrating out of phase with the rest of reality during that time. It makes you think if there are such a thing as ghosts or phantoms, they could be entities that vibrate out of phase with everyone else.”
Mordum “We’ve got Todd [Stern] from Psycroptic on this one, and he’s a good friend of ours. His gear is in the practice space, so it was easy to get him on the record. Lyrically, it’s a fictionalization of an actual event that happened—getting jumped on the streets of Boston and just connecting with that bestial essence of the human hominid and having to express power and violence in a very concise way. So it’s that emotion being funneled into the song. It’s about the taste of blood. It’s about violence. It’s about smashing people—all the good things in life.”
Lex Talionis “This is one of Matt Medeiros' tracks. You can always count on Matt for these types of songs. They're death-metal-inspired, with a very frantic sort of pace to them. The song is about being a survivor of some kind of apocalypse and being one of the last of your kind left alive. You’re surveying all the damage and also realizing that the era that you were part of is now over and it's time to think about your own demise, however that comes, either slowly or very quickly.”
Angel of Darkness “My dear friend Paul Delaney from Black Anvil is on this one. When people ask me about black metal in New York City, I tell them there’s only really two bands—us and Black Anvil. And that’s why Paul ends up on the album. We had [Black Anvil drummer] Raeph [Glicken] on The Grand Annihilation, so I try to involve these guys as much as I can. The woman doing the monologue is another friend of mine, Cat Cabral—she’s deeply involved in the occult and witchcraft. She teaches classes, and she’s also an actress, so I asked her to read this monologue I wrote. She did a great job.”
Sombre Ruin “This song is probably one of my favorite tracks on the record. It just has that stripped-down, early-’80s Lower East Side feel to it. It kind of harkens back to one of my favorite bands of all time, Swans. When I hear Swans or a band like The Birthday Party, I hear very slow and bleak-sounding blues music. Not necessarily rock or metal, but deconstructed blues.”
Plague Years “‘Plague Years’ is about being ready for the apocalypse and living in a world where you feel like the pestilence of humanity has created irrevocable damage and has to be completely wiped out in order for the universe to proceed in a positive direction. It's like when you have an infestation of maggots in your kitchen and you want to pour bleach on them to eradicate them and clean your kitchen—that's what humanity is to me at times. It's just a collection of filth and maggots that need be removed.”


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