Review: Coffin Curse – Ceased to Be
Into the Crypts of Eternity
As death metal reaches an increasingly critical mass and genre fatigue from over-saturation and hype cycles builds it seems certain that we are approaching the late stage and subsequent decay of the once promising “Old School Death Metal” movement. However for some the changing flavour of fickle crowds has never meant much and as I’ve written in detail in two prior features, Chile has proven itself as a country uncaring and apathetic to the ebb and flow in traditional genre strongholds within Europe and the United States. Whereas the influence of hardcore, grind, doom, and so on has become quite prevalent as of late, the once inescapable dominance of the thrashier and typically American sound of years past resides no longer in Florida, New Jersey, or New York but rather this narrowly shaped nation whose contributions to extremity are still not particularly well known in spite of its slowly growing prominence. Thankfully after a lengthy 8-year wait, Coffin Curse is now releasing their full-length debut, Ceased to Be, prepared to play its part in helping to rectify this.
If you know your classic American style death metal you do not need to be reminded of the unholy divinity of Slayer, Morbid Angel, Deicide, and other such giants of the genre. A number of classic Polish and Dutch bands also cited from a similar set of blasphemous scriptures and arrived at comparable sounds. Where the Chileans differ from them is with a stronger emphasis on a distinctly eerie, smoothly flowing sort of melody distinct from the Swedish and Finnish bands, taking Hell Awaits-esque tremolo riffing and building on it with even more distinct and arching shapes.
In this case, the patron demon to which their blessings go is the mighty Pentagram (now known as Pentagram Chile to avoid confusion with the American doom band) and Ceased to Be bears their mark proudly. Quite a few lengthy tremolo portions populate this album guided by distinct melodies over steady skank beats and narrated by a slightly gurgly approach to growling. While blast beats and tempo changes are used moderately, they emphasize elongated streams of melodic shapes altered by crunchier, denser phrasings to create a gradually morphing journey slowly entrancing the listener into eerie passages stretching off into a cloudy, stormy unknown. It’s a direct evolution from the earliest foundations of the genre, differing from the American sound and its European descendants by emphasizing less the staccato crunch and chaotic bludgeoning in the place of an ever-flowing stream of morose melody and riffs that are fast and vicious yet almost blend into an almost but not quite ambient stream of forbidden, demonic power.
With this in mind, Coffin Curse’s debut manages to at once sound more old school than “OSDM” typically is advertised as being yet reflects a careful level of crafting too insidiously deliberate to have been something from 1991. Songs open with a triumphantly thundering introduction that sets the stage for faster streamlined riffs to race against one another in paired sets where one presents a theme to be both opposed and complimented by another, both streamlining themselves to a steady pulsing tempo. Branching themes emerge from this, sometimes repurposed from before or creeping out from the thrust of each charging assault.
They change up the shapes of the riffing in preparation for a middle section usually breaking up tempo and changing it up with less streamlined, crunchier phrasings and building up expectation or a return to the prior intensity. This is paid off by a triumphant concluding section, sometimes a wild and desolate solo stretching off into the abyss or a new series of breakaway carnage, emerging from behind the false comforts of repeated ideas for one final vicious curveball. It may sound very sectioned when explained like this, but in practice due to their particular way of gradually altering song direction, it happens in very fluid transitions between interrelated ideas. This is in stark opposition to the more self-conflicting style of riffs clattering and crashing into one another we typically call “riff salad” elsewhere and at heart is the most distinguishing feature of their sound.
Although Ceased to Be doesn’t have a whole lot of obvious show-stopper moments or easily abused and exaggerated tropes, it does have both a sound that has no reason to be so uncommon and a grasp on how to create a distinct atmosphere through a strong grasp of song structure. It is low-tech at heart, not an uncommon feature, but it doesn’t rest purely on its atavistic appeal, instead using it as a springboard to capture and encapsulate what makes this kind of death metal so good in the first place. It’s far, far stronger than the band’s prior material, partially due to a much stronger production and a heavier, more resolute sound as well.
Surprisingly enough both members of this band (and two now ex-members) are also in a progressive death metal band, Inanna; the only real similarities are the thrashy undertones and the fact that neither band shies away from being melodic but these are general enough that you could never mix them up. However the finesse in songwriting they displayed in Inanna has carried on here albeit in a drastically different form. This album has become refreshing in a time when thrashy, subtly blackened death is strangely under-represented for no good reason, bringing to mind the best parts of ’90s Sadistic Intent to the extent I’ve joked elsewhere that this is the album they should have released years ago. It is humble and unassuming on the surface but it is a portal to a sound and domain that would be refreshing to see others dig into. The possibilities that both Coffin Curse and the Chilean sound offer to the genre and its growing fanbase are not to be ignored and so far Ceased to Be reigns supreme as this year’s premiere take on no-frills no prefixes straightforward ripping death.
Four out of Five demon-occupied latrines