Review: Coffin CurseThe Continuous Nothing

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Chileification of the Ancient Black Earth

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. For some the changing palette of fickle crowds had never meant much and as I’ve written in detail in two prior features, Chile has proven itself as a country sonically 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 eight-year wait, Coffin Curse are now releasing their sophomore, The Continuous Nothing, which shall play an important part in rectifying this.

If you know your classic American style death metal you do not need to be reminded of the unholy divinity of Sadistic Intent, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Monstrosity, and other such giants. The Chileans emphasize on a distinctly eerie, smoothly flowing sort of melody, taking a Hell Awaits esque sleek riff attack and building on it with even more distinct and arching shapes. As such they are stylistically closer to the former two but that only accounts for so much. In this case, the patron demon to which their blessings go is their own homeland’s Pentagram. Lengthy tremolo portions populate this album guided by distinct melodies over steady skank beats and narrated by a slightly gurgling approach to growling. Blast beats and abrupt pattern/tempo shifts are used moderately yet songs emphasize elongated streams of melodic shapes altered by crunchier, denser phrasings to create a gradually morphing journey. Of note is a greater degree of harmony in the guitar work, at times hinting at the sort of proto-melodic death metal (in the Unanimated, Eucharist, and the Alf Svensson era of At The Gates sense) dual-guitar coiling patterns, adding quite a bit of intensity via vivid colour to the arrangements. Think Grotesque’s Incantation though this is not as black metal overall or emphasized as much. The honed musicianship from their time in Inanna is put to good use here, with the additional flavoring making it the stronger album on a riff-by-riff basis than the somewhat Autopsy-tinged Ceased to Be.

It’s death metal that emphasizes a general skank beat heavy consistency in its pacing with various deviations in form and pattern fleshing out the shape of songs that are intricate but understated in how they demonstrate it. It’s a direct evolution from the earliest foundations of the genre, with the proto-brutal death muffle-chunking and fragmented structure that contributed the dawn of bands like Deeds of Flesh and Gorgasm not absent but far less prominent. While technically competent with guitarist-turned-drummer Carlos Romero pulling out a variety of vicious fills to emphasize that, it is rooted in ideas closer to the ’80s thrashing roots of American death metal. It is considerably more fleshed out and its harmonic sensibilities are those of experienced musicians of a normally progressive inclination showing a more feral field dulls not their weaponry. There’s little in the way of stompy moshbro fare or easy grooves with the band avoiding the friendly, pacifying nature of hardcore douchebro comforts of post-Maggot Stomp/20 Buck Spin throwback bands. In that sense the spirited approach here is closer to the spirit of bands like Ectovoid, Cruciamentum, Dead Congregation, Necrovation, Orator (Bangladesh), Coffin Texts, and Nocturnal Torment. In other words the older school of death metal bands attempting to not necessarily worship the 90’s but to continue where it had left off.

With this in mind, Coffin Curse continue to sound more old school than “OSDM” typically is advertised as being while demonstrating a level of craftsmanship too insidiously deliberate to have been 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, but 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 with 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.

While the finesse in their sound is clear it also helps that Coffin Curse’s sophomore is also satisfyingly vicious, even moreso than before. Contrary to the dogma among trendies who only cared about supposedly-traditional death metal once Relapse and Century Media jumped on it, that greater technicality results in less heaviness, a tighter execution lets bands like this triple down on the violence. “Among the Suffering Souls” and 9-minute epic “The Dead’s Deafening Silence” are probably the closest to contemporary retrodeath with their emphasis on marching churn keeping them at a more manageable pace. Neither of them rests on tone-worship chugthuggery, avoiding the reduction of riffing to connective tissue with interplay with their signature tenacity and finding ways to work in understated if tense, gradually evolving melody into this comparatively doomier context. The former track even has a frenetic Funeral Chant esque upper-register, semi blackened riff in its last quarter that’s one of the album’s stand out moments.

On the flipside, we have the meat of their work; namely their high velocity rippers. Rapid-fire opener “Thin the Herd” contrasts snappy palm mute riffing with tremolo fills that soon lead into brief forays into malevolent polyphony, going so far to blast their way into a section where they contrast a needling lead with flourishing sweep-y sounding sorcery. It’s a track that starts off at a classic Sadus level of violent but shows that they’re capable of far more than merely the stock ingredients of this sound. “Stock” is no handicap however; they’re skilled enough chefs that they even turn common elements into star platters. “Mauled by Unseen Atrocities” has a deceptively plain sounding verse riff adorned with little accents that curves and bends, transitioning with its various little flavorful touches into increasingly varied and distorted forms. It’s probably the most “focused” sounding song in the sense of feeling it has a single central idea it varies throughout its 3:53 runtime. It sounds the closest to something off of the 2020 debut album but the renewed bloodthirstiness gives it a very different effect, befitting of the merciless cruelty that defines their strongest album to date.

The Continuous Nothing is low tech at heart, not uncommon, but it relies not on its atavistic appeal instead using it as a springboard to capture the fundamental strengths of this kind of death. It’s a step up in terms of savagery from the band’s prior material partially due to a much stronger production and a heavier, more resolute sound as well. Surprisingly enough while both members of this band (plus two ex-members) are also in a progressive death metal band, 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. That finesse in songwriting is continued in or rather translated into a drastically different form. This album has become refreshing in a time when thrashy, American style death metal is still strangely under-represented for no good reason, bringing to mind the best parts of ’90s Sadistic Intent (specifically Resurrection and Ancient Black Earth) in its updating of classic thrash musicality and ignoring the mainline changes in the American death metal style. It is humble and unassuming on the surface yet 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 scene offer to the genre and its growing fanbase are not to be ignored with this sophomore demonstrating the country’s extreme metal at its finest. It may be just death metal but its subgenre-unencumbered nature does not stop it at all from demonstrating the monstrous depths only a fairly small number can truly descend to.

4.5/5 Flaming Toilets Ov Hell

The Continuous Nothing is out now and can be purchased on their official bandcamp.

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