Golden Tombs‘ self-titled debut is an adventure not for the faint of heart. It reaches dizzying heights with surprisingly few lulls, considering how long each of the songs are. The biggest strength the duo displayed throughout the album’s six songs, is their ability to meld seemingly disparate genres into seamless and epic soundscapes. The epic opening track “The Desert Ship” is the first of many examples of this skill. Opening with a gorgeous string arrangement, the impression is given that you’re about to get an album of modern classical music. This impression is only slightly wrong as another aspect of the band’s vast sound kicks in quickly with a countrified guitar riff. The song eventually embraces a spaghetti western vibe and this sound, to some degree, permeates the rest of the record.
It seems too easy or obvious to refer to this record as cinematic, but sometimes a cliche is your best bet, especially in music writing. Golden Tombs’ densely orchestrated songs don’t tell precise stories; the only vocals are operatic and wordless, but somehow epic scenes are effortlessly conjured in the mind of the listener. The slower, dark songs like “Cathedral of Leaves” illicit images like war-weary gunslingers tiredly trekking through snow-capped mountains. Faster-paced tracks place invoke images of horses being ridden at breakneck speeds, perhaps alongside an even faster train about to be robbed.
The magic of this debut lies in its tendency to borrow things from less obvious genres to enrich its sound. Each song has the emotional weight of post-rock and the sprawling weirdness of psychedelic rock. Other musical references are more rare but just as important. It’s hard to imagine the darkness harnessed in some of their guitar riffs without an intimate knowledge of and respect for heavy metal. Despite the technically long running times of these songs, the diversity of styles within them turned what might have felt like marathons into sprints, actually making me wish the album was longer.
At the 7:30 mark of “Cathedral of Leaves”, the song transitions from an abrasive drone-like tone to a pretty and surprisingly poppy/indie-rock guitar riff. By slowly adding strings, a gorgeous lead guitar riff and more operatic vocals, the song moves away from the album’s most generic moment to something that sounds like something from Explosions in the Sky if they attempted to write a country song. It closes with the abrasive drone sound from earlier as if to remind the listener that as satisfying as its crescendo was, and despite the album being over, we shouldn’t assume for a moment the adventures on which Golden Tombs take us aren’t still unfolding somewhere in the ether.
Despite the band being billed as a duo, their dense signature sound would not have been possible without the inclusion of a handful of incredibly talented musicians that I can’t help but imagine as the final pieces of an unruly outlaw gang. Should Golden Tombs release more music, I hope these bandits are included in the next adventure. The album can be streamed, a limited amount of times of course, and purchased on their Bandcamp page.
Written by Brian Clarke