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Behind the Cover: Tomb Mold — The Enduring Spirit

The surprise release finds the death metal standouts on a high mark that we explore further in conversation between the musicians themselves and the mind behind their celebrated cover illustrations.

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Words by Luis (@HeaviestOfArt):


Toronto's Tomb Mold have just released The Enduring Spirit — a culminating effort built on their own terms following a consistent release cycle that saw the band climbing to the top of the death metal underground. Their acclaim is warranted for the band present an expansive take on the shape shifting genre, one that bridges distinct ends of the musical spectrum cohesively with a result that astounds and amazes. Like its predecessors, The Enduring Spirit thrives in aggression and never ceases to become stagnant throughout its play through as rich sonic (and visual) layers unfold with each passing listen.


Digitally released on September 15th and now available in physical format via 20 Buck Spin, The Enduring Spirit is a maelstrom of sounds that astounds visually as well with yet another sprawling Jesse Jacobi cover to boast. We welcome Tomb Mold's Derrick Vella, Payson Power, Max Klebanoff, and artist extraordinaire Jesse Jacobi to a deep dive into the enrapturing wonder of The Enduring Spirit, its visual identity, and the role of art in the human experience:

 

“The Enduring Spirit” is here and surrounded by widespread praise for its compositional direction and overall exuberance. A few years have passed since “Planetary Clairvoyance” (2019) and with each album cycle being representative of a band’s state of mind at the time, where does “The Enduring Spirit” find you all?


Derrick: I think it finds us at a time when spirits (no pun intended) are high amongst myself and my bandmates. I think the last few years have tested us both in the band and outside, and this album feels like a way for us to break through new barriers and to find a way to block out the noise of real life and make something special.


Payson: Life is a gift, do your best with what you are given until you can’t. I’m trying to worry less and prepare more. I’m proud of where we are as a band.


Max: Welcome change into your life, suffer for your art whenever possible. Reward yourself with tasked listening to music, rather than let that same music become background noise.


That is some great advice! Speaking of welcoming change and suffering for your art, as you see how audiences have engaged with the new material, would you say that the creative cycle for “The Enduring Spirit” served as an act of reflection of sorts? Tomb Mold had been on a steady one album a year release cycle since “Primordial Malignity” (2017).


Derrick: I think after going 3 for 3, we had earned enough cache to slow down and take our time with new material. The pandemic split us apart for a time and it gave us each a chance to grind at our instruments, enjoy listening to music, and it allowed me the time to draft out about 9-10 songs to show to the band. Knowing that the new material was going to pose more of a challenge, we opted to take our time and feeling no pressure or deadlines was very nice. It allowed us to leave no stone unturned and really fill the album with exciting twists and turns and surprises at every pass. Not having to play shows or tours helped to keep us focused. I don’t think we ever tried playing any old song until a few months ago. Definitely funny when we are looking around at each other saying, “Anyone remember how to play Abysswalker?”

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Cover Artwork by Brad Moore

Payson: Like Derrick said, the investment of time is what has allowed us to flourish. Reflection is incidental.


Max: Not necessarily a reflection, but a deconstruction. To both dent and affirm the formative steps of this band, in order for us to expire and be reborn again in the cycle reincarnate necessity.



That said, where did you look to take this new album from a compositional standpoint? Derrick, the Dream Unending influence is highly present and you make great use of space throughout.


Derrick: I had started working on the first Dream Unending record in late 2019 into 2020 and was slowing chipping away at the new Tomb Mold songs in between. Usually, ideas came out of just jamming alone in between demo’ing DU songs. Since Dream Unending is a much slower burn, I found myself wanting to push the pace and technicality of Tomb Mold. I felt more comfortable crafting clean sections after getting my feet wet with DU as well. I think those albums, along with "The Enduring Spirit", have a cinematic and immersive quality with lots of tension and release points. A real journey, if you will.


I agree. Much like "Song of Salvation" (2022), "The Enduring Spirit" is richly layered and dynamic. Visually, you’re back with Jesse Jacobi, which would lead one to assume you developed a strong working relationship. Looking back at when this collaboration began for “Planetary”, what drew you to Jesse’s work for Tomb Mold? There’s a wealth of amazing artists to choose from, but Jesse seemed to be the perfect fit.


Derrick: I think the friend and familiarity factor played a role. Max is the one that helped set the tone/concept with Jesse for the artwork, and I think Jesse really relished the opportunity. I knew he was happy with how the "Planetary" LP turned out but himself being 4 years stronger, I think he wanted a second crack at it. It's unlike anything I’ve seen. I haven’t gotten tired of looking at it.


Payson: Jesse has a tremendous knack for fleshing out a concept without compromising his own style or vision. We are very lucky to have him as a collaborator in creating something truly fresh and original. His visuals are our music’s perfect counterpart.

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"Planetary Clairvoyance" Full Cover Artwork by Jesse Jacobi

I agree, and it appears the appreciation is mutual. How has the partnership between you all evolved over the years? The audiovisual relationship can only strengthen from the initial collaboration.


Payson: Luckily for us, we were able to send Jesse our new recordings when they were complete and he dove right in. We were busy for the past few years writing and practicing while Jesse was creating a wealth of material for the 2022 point-and-click game NORCO. We linked back up and were able to get right back into the groove.


Max: Our working relationship with Jesse has become exponentially stronger since "Planetary Clairvoyance". There is a strong trust between him and TM, especially after seeing his body of work and artistic capabilities expand with NORCO. Jesse and I share many similar interests, Shinkawa Ohrai, Yuktaka Izubuchi, Yoshiyuki Takani, Haruhiko Mikimoto, all of which utilize incredible detail work to better represent the large scope of the media that they represent which each illustration. The artwork for TES needed to establish and new visual universe and it’s lore, and Jesse’s art exceeded all possible expectations. In fact, Jesse’s interpretation of the album’s themes have made me to revaluate many of my own motivations behind the lyrics and concepts for the album.

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"The Enduring Spirit" Cover Artwork In Progress by Jesse Jacobi

Jesse, looking back at when this all began, to what do you attribute the strengths of your partnership with the band and how has it evolved over time? As you've heard, you're causing Max to reevaluate his lyrical motivations.


Jesse: I don't remember exactly how we got acquainted; I think Derrick just contacted me on Instagram sometime in 2018 and asked me if I'd be interested in doing work for them. I was really just kind of getting started in terms of taking my painting seriously then. As a fan of metal in general I'd seen their name around and knew that there was buzz around their earlier releases, so I was excited to do my first job for a "real" band. I remember working out the ideas for "Planetary" with Derrick over the phone, and through our back and forth, we became friends pretty easily. Everyone in the band has always been very kind and easy to communicate with, no "cool guy" behavior to speak of.


I think one thing that I admired about the guys is that while they played in a metal band, it was clear that there was a vast web of influences from outside the realm of heavy metal that factored into their general creative sensibilities, and that's something I can very much relate to in my own work. I think we are both coming from a similar place in that sense. We just kind of clicked, to put it simply. Those are the best relationships to find yourself in when you are doing work for somebody. That's when you can harness what feels like true collaboration.


It's all purely genuine and passionately driven, and having this conversation with you all solidifies that. Specifically for “The Enduring Spirit”, what were you looking to achieve upon approaching the visual element of the record? The color palette pairs well with the album’s overall atmosphere.


Payson: Thank you! We wanted something very vibrant… triumph and majesty drenched in disquiet and unease. I was a huge fan of the teal sky right out of the gate, it’s a calming hue to me. I think the colour palette is more remarkable for the colours it doesn’t use to be honest.

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"The Enduring Spirit" Cover Artwork In Progress by Jesse Jacobi

Max: To match the spirit and overall tone of the album, the artwork had to feel triumphant, grandiose, resilient. It had to visually represent the cycle of reincarnate necessity the brought about both the death and rebirth of TM. The lighter colour palette reflects the improved clarity and transparency that we aimed for when writing the album, while they darker primordial entities swarming in the dark corners of the piece represents the sinister and gloomier era of the band.


I love the mention of color palette significance, which is more than just a marketing factor. Jesse, given how tight a deadline you had for “The Enduring Spirit”, what were you looking to achieve upon approaching the visual element of the record from your respective end? Despite you not having the usual timeline and constant back and forth of fleshing out the details with the band, you crafted something remarkable here.


Jesse: Thank you. I'm just glad it worked out in the end. This job came up pretty suddenly; I was in the middle of working on some big ambitious piece for a gallery when the guys reached out about doing work for a new LP. The timeline was tight, and I remember expressing doubt both to them and the owner of the label in regards to my ability to finish a large painting in time for release, but I also knew that I didn't want to miss out on working with them again. So, I put the large painting in the closet, had a phone conversation with Max, and basically got to work the following day. Max loosely discussed lyrical themes with me, where they were at as a band, recent influences, and other art/music/media that had been on their minds in regards to creation of the songs. It was a good chat.

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"The Enduring Spirit" Cover Artwork In Progress by Jesse Jacobi

Visually, I don't think we had anything firm in place at all after that phone call, but I could feel things swirling around somewhere in my brain. Listening to the songs, reading along with the lyrics, I felt like the accompanying art needed to be bright, colorful, vaporous, open-skied. One thing that also lodged itself in my mind while listening was a sense of triumphant rebirth. I kept seeing this loose mental image of green insectoid wings flitting through the clouds. Max had also brought up some old fantasy/mech anime, and I feel like maybe both of these loose images coalesced into the large, semi-abstract figure on the cover. Of course, this ultimately still being a death metal record, I wanted on some level to include imagery that felt a little bit more traditionally befitting of such a thing. Most of that is on the backside of the album.

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"The Enduring Spirit" Cover Artwork In Progress by Jesse Jacobi

Overall though, the process was absolutely one of crossing my fingers and hoping the image would reveal itself to me rather than bringing it to life through careful planning and discussion. We did, of course, discuss it as I worked, but mostly in short text exchanges - "Is this cool, yes/no," etc. The final image didn't have much to do with what I was originally picturing when I started, but if you're creating largely on intuition and letting the piece come through you, it seldom does. Most of the time I can't even really say where these things come from.


Continuing on the topic of the tight deadline, there’s always the pressure of delivering something noteworthy in such a short span of time. As you see how well received the cover (and the album) have been over this past week, is there a sense of realization that you get from looking at the piece in reflection? I’d say it speaks volumes of your ability to visually interpret the band on a moment's notice.


Jesse: If there's one thing I've learned from making paintings and putting them out in front of the public eye, at least for me personally, it's that you really cannot predict what will strike people, and it is foolish to try - so you just have to do your best to be true to yourself, to try to make things that you might enjoy seeing. If other people end up enjoying it too, that's wonderful. As far as this album goes, I'm thrilled that it's been so well-received - for me, sure, but more so for the band, for the operation as a whole. It still feels very strange seeing the work out there. And now that it's out and a little bit of time has passed, and seeing how much people seem to be enjoying it, I feel like the artwork is fitting for it - almost like "Alright, of course that's the artwork for these songs." These insights are only ever possible in retrospect, it seems.


Mostly I'm just grateful it worked out at all. There were periods of uncertainty - I had a bad case of COVID about halfway through, and also suddenly moved house as well during the process. Life always seems to find a way to obstruct you. Thankfully, Dave, the label owner, was kind enough to basically double the original deadline for me. While I would have enjoyed being able to spend 50 more hours obsessing over it, I'm satisfied with how it turned out, and the painting might actually be better for having that deadline. Sometimes things just have to be finished. I've ruined paintings by obsessing over them. In fact, I'm doing that right now with another piece!

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"The Enduring Spirit" Full Cover Artwork by Jesse Jacobi

As they say, pressure creates diamonds, so I can almost guarantee this next piece of yours will be grand as well. Was the intention for both Tomb Mold records to put together something that would astound in the physical format? Perhaps as an avenue for immersion? “Planetary Clairvoyance” and “The Enduring Spirit” both host an amazing landscape that is enough of a reason to pick up a vinyl copy.


Jesse: Yes, without a doubt, providing an avenue for immersion is pretty much at the top of the list. These objects are important because they help facilitate a deeper experience with the album. This feels perhaps too obvious to even say, but I think we as listeners are partially unable to access the full authorial intent of an album by just listening to it digitally. I feel like when any person thinks about their all-time favorite albums, the artwork is an inextricable part of the memory. It's possible that the visual component is itself a reason that an album might imprint itself upon someone. Maybe that artwork sticks in your mind and causes you to go back for another listen when you otherwise might not have.


Having a tangible visual component in front of you that you can touch, unfold, pull right up to your eyes - that is what helps to pull you into the world of the album, to see it as a thing unto itself. We all see the direction the world is moving in, and I'm admittedly as susceptible to convenience as most other people, but when all these components of a physical album are working in tandem, it really does feel like for a moment you can step into someone else's dream. Together the art and music form one thing. I want people to be able to put it on, unfold the record, look at it, and sit with it all - meeting the album on its terms. I'm not necessarily a physical-media fetishist or anything, I think people can get lost in the pursuit and collection of objects, but I definitely think it would be a bad thing to lose that experience entirely.


You couldn't have said it more beautifully. I'd argue it's why vinyl sales are seeing a strong resurgence and why cover artwork is so strong in contemporary death metal and metal as a whole. You get it, and that's why you've all had the results you have. What role do you feel the visuals play in conveying your message through Jesse’s lens? From what I gauge from the full cover illustration that Jesse posted, there’s a narrative here to be learned from and the physical copies are sure to be a great companion to the listening experience.


Max: Jesse’s art makes tangible the obfuscated themes and concepts of the album. I don’t think the art is intended to represent literally the content of the lyric’s, but instead provides one of many interpretive manifestation’s of the album’s rebirth motifs. Aura Battler Dunbine, Magic Knight Rayearth and Turn A Gundam were important referential works when I wrote the lyrics, Jesse and I both used them as inspirational touchstones during both the formative periods of the lyrics and art. Album artwork leaves a lasting impression on the viewer before the music itself is even heard, which made it necessary to convey an immediate and clear triumphant and cathartic atmosphere at first glance. Upon closer inspection, the full gatefold art shows more clearly the central figure’s birth from the living primordial landscape that provides the base for the artwork. The bursting bright sky exemplifies the figures joyous birth/rebirth, slow shedding light on the arcane landscape from which it was born.

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"The Enduring Spirit" Full Cover Artwork by Jesse Jacobi

Your creative direction was spot on and the details, references, and influence become more evident the more one dives into the painting. This is an album to own physically, and thankfully, that's now a possibility. Jesse, beyond Tomb Mold, you’ve had the opportunity of illustrating for a few other bands in the death metal genre as well as other notable releases, including Mutually Assured Destruction’s “Ascension” and Spirit Adrift’s “Chained To Oblivion”. What does it mean to you, as an artist, to play such a pivotal role in this contemporary era of metal?


Jesse: I know I mentioned it just a moment ago, but it mostly feels surreal that something I've done is out there in that way. It's like my brain can't connect the dots. I do feel that the genre overall, as expansive as it is (and should be), has been in a pretty strong place lately. For as many cookie-cutter bands that are out there, there are tons still figuring out new ways to make heavy metal feel fresh and vital. I can scan through tons of classic metal album covers in my mind, think about how they impacted my taste, guided me toward other things, inspired me - to be even a tiny part of that great lineage is really special and wild to me, and I’m grateful for the other bands who have chosen to include me as well. I hope to continue doing this for a long time.


In a more general sense with painting as a whole, I'm not sure that there's anything in particular I wish to impress upon people; I might even say that I intentionally work against that notion. When I'm lucky enough to be deeply engaged with painting, it begins to feel like something else is trying to come through, and that it's simply my job to try to do justice to whatever that is. I don't think this feeling is uncommon for artists. That may seem self-aggrandizing - I'm not trying to make it seem like I enter a trance and have a mystical experience every time I sit in my painting chair. A lot of nights I produce nothing good and go to bed feeling bad about it. I only mean that sometimes it feels like I'm in service of something, and that's when it feels like I'm on the right path. I'm often surprised by how things go - a lot of each painting just comes out, and parts of it can appear in a few different ways if you shift your focus a bit. I like the idea of making work that can almost feel like watching clouds. Maybe different people will see different things. They will anyway, regardless of your intent as an artist.


I guess ultimately I will say that I'm not overly concerned with making people think, but I am concerned with making them feel. Often I find that the most impactful works seem to be the hardest to describe in full, as though the best art can only be defined by a quality which resides at the edge of language and that we are not necessarily privy to. If what I'm doing can make someone feel that way, even a little bit, then I think I've succeeded.


There's no doubt that you've excelled in doing so, and you'll continue to do so for the months and years to come. It's an exciting future. Thank you all for your insight! In closing, what role do you feel the arts play in the human experience today? For a long time, and to this day, death metal is at the pinnacle of genres that are intentional about the visual element. Tomb Mold carries that torch.


Derrick: I often fear that album artwork goes largely ignored, or rather unappreciated to the extent that it should be. Once streaming services can find a way to monetize liner notes and insert art, it will probably be included on whatever platform you use. I wish there was a way for people who purchase music digitally to have access to that. Maybe it's easier to do via Bandcamp than I think. For me, it's such a crucial element. I want to read the lyrics while looking at the design of the album cover or the back or the insert while listening. It helps to make for a more immersive experience.



Payson: Art has unfortunately become too disposable for so many, but ultimately that is inconsequential. Death metal keeps its rigor mortis afflicted fingers wrapped tautly around the throat of extravagance. Go above and beyond, push for something you are truly happy with. It’s yours and you have to live with it. Make the release that you would be excited about! As long as you stay true to your vision, your presentation, and your co-collaborators, you can succeed.


Jesse: You're right, it does seem to be a stronger component within death metal than it is elsewhere in music. I'm not entirely sure why that is, but I do think about it. I think of certain pieces of art that have had a major impact on me, all-timers, and wondering what it is about them that speaks so strongly. I don't know that it can even be defined, but it feels to me like there is a spirit that moves through great art (I mean that subjectively of course; we all like different things). And through experiencing great art, it can be passed into you (should you accept it), and from there you can hone it and shape it into your own expression of that spirit. If you feel that spirit in you, maybe there is a compulsion or obligation to instantiate it. That's how it is for me anyway. You're sending something out into the world, and the message is received by someone, and they send it back out again. The chain continues. Maybe that is the core of it all for me.


I think the role that the arts play in the human experience today is the same as it ever was - I'd say there's a strong argument that art is the very thing that makes us human. Whatever was with us when we were painting the walls of caves never left. I can't imagine what a world without that would look like, and I don't really want to. All of this is to say that images are a matter of great importance, and that I'm so grateful that the band and label would choose to have me fill this role for them, to make an alluring entry point for people into the world that Tomb Mold have created with this album. A big thank you to everyone involved in this project!

 

The Enduring Spirit is available now via 20 Buck Spin (Order).

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Cover Artwork by Jesse Jacobi

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