Mike Hill couldn’t have been more than 12 or 13 years old when he heard Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” for the first time. The future ringleader of the sludgy metal four-piece Tombs owes the turning point to multiple sources: We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll, the 1976 Sabbath compilation that housed the song; his friend Byron, who turned Hill onto the song, and Byron’s sister’s boyfriend, a prolific record collector who pointed Byron toward that music.
“I wasn’t even sure if I liked it. All I knew is that it had this impact,” says Hill, who knew Black Sabbath through Ronnie James Dio-era material before that. “The brutality of that song and the subject matter—it’s about revenge and loneliness and all those themes you start feeling when you’re becoming a young man. The song pretty much nailed it for me at that stage.”
Hill was once a big Rush and Led Zeppelin fan, but after encountering Sabbath in the light that would solidify them as an all-time sentimental favorite, those groups began to shine differently. “I loved all those bands, but when I heard Sabbath, it was like, these are regular guys basically who were ugly and probably didn’t have too many friends and were considered the outcasts, you know what I’m saying? And from what I’ve read, basically that seemed to be the truth about Black Sabbath,” Hill says.
An atmosphere-focused Brooklyn outfit that specializes in wide, scowling blizzards of post-metal, Tombs was actually born as a band name before its actual 2007 formation. Hill, who has also played in the similarly heavy acts Anodyne and Versoma, was plotting a “solo, drum machine, Joy Division, gothic sort of band” and planned to call it Tombs. The plot fell through because Hill could never nail the right drum machine sounds due to issues with the technology at the time. Speaking to Scion A/V last year, the guitarist-vocalist recalled when he and his band were listening to rehearsal recordings and decided to exhume Tombs for their handle. “[The music] just sounded dark and cavernous and sort of buried—[a] submerged, subterranean sort of vibe,” Hill said.
As a listener, Hill has discussed enjoying more than just metal, with Black Flag, Unsane, Ramones, Bad Brains and ‘80s goth rock, plus post-punk bands such as Bauhaus and Psychedelic Furs among the crews he’s brought up in conversations. He’s even an A Flock of Seagulls acolyte.
So, why does this part-time mechanical engineering consultant solely pursue metal over diversifying his repertoire? “I don’t see doing different styles of music as any kind of progression. This is what I do. I make this type of music. If I was writing songs that sounded like Pinback or another band like that, I would be an indie rock guy. My life would naturally go in that direction. But that’s not what I do. When I sit down and become creative, it sounds like what we do as a band [in Tombs],” he says. “As much as I love The Cure and Joy Division and Smiths and all that stuff, I still identify more with metalheads.”
Fri., May 24, 8:30pm. $17.50-$20. With Baroness + Pallbearer. Union Transfer, 1024 Spring Garden St. utphilly.com
PW's Music Issue 2014