Part of me was hoping that Forgotten Tomb’s latest album Under Saturn Retrograde would be at least a partial return to their older musical style, but I’m not really surprised with how it turned out. The new release follows the stylistic changes of 2007’s Negative Megalomania, gradually moving away from the band’s doomy black metal sound in favor of a more rock-based approach. These most recent two albums have been kind of a watered-down version of the Italian group’s once-potent depressive sound, occasionally flashing tempting glimpses of darkened brilliance but more often coming up short.
A sore point for a lot of fans, myself included, is the sudden emergence of clean vocals in Forgotten Tomb’s sound. Their use ranges from slightly inappropriate to downright cringe-worthy, and unfortunately on Under Saturn Retrograde they show up in nearly every track. Metal fans wouldn’t be metal fans without some tolerance for unusual vocal styles, and I wouldn’t have a problem if the vocals were the only issue, but musically I didn’t find most of the tracks on the album to be especially memorable either. Aside from more straightforward, blackened tracks like ‘Reject Existence’ and ‘Downshift’, ‘Joyless’ had a sweet riff or two and the ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ cover wasn’t bad, but the other tracks didn’t really add much to the album.
The only real bright spot for me was the opener ‘Reject Existence,’ which served as a reminder of what Forgotten Tomb can be when they feel like it. The blackened tapestry of Herr Morbid’s scathing vocals and sinister riffing is every bit as dark as any of the band’s earlier material, but the track is also infectiously catchy, boring into your consciousness in the same way that Satyricon and Katatonia’s newer music does. ‘Downshift’ is similar, but doesn’t carry quite the same weight.
So while some of Forgotten Tomb’s newer stuff is the perfect example of Patrick Bateman’s phrase “more commercial and therefore more satisfying in a narrower way,” a lot of the new material is simply forgettable, and even worse I feel it dilutes and cheapens what the Forgotten Tomb name means and symbolizes. I don’t have a problem with musicians experimenting and evolving, but Forgotten Tomb’s musical evolution is taking them so far from the bitter, plague-infested world they once occupied that it’s hard to treat them as the same band.