Sunday, July 13, 2008

Back in black.

I've decided to start this thing back up again, thanks in part to an influx of new writing gigs and the kind of free time that summer brings. So without further ado -

Sludge Freaks And D-Beats: Coffins’ Doomed March to Destruction
Kim Kelly
*to be featured in the next issue of Unrestrained! Magazine

Clawing their way up through the filth and decay of extreme metal’s grimy underbelly comes Coffins, a doom-death power trio intent on utter aural devastation. A friend of mine put it best – “They sound like the bastard child of Autopsy and Hellhammer… getting viciously gangbanged by Eyehategod.” Yeah, that sounds about right. Add in some Winter worship, Amebix adulation, a few nods to Noothgrush and an unhealthy fixation on the end of life and you get Coffins, Tokyo, Japan’s answer to Corrupted (another group of Japanese sludgefucks who hail from sorta-nearby Osaka – stay with me, kids!).
Fresh off a successful maiden voyage to the US of A that included a spot on Sonar’s hallowed stage as a part of the Maryland Death Fest, Coffins frontman Uchino (guitar/vocals) managed to find a moment or two to take a breath and reflect upon his bands mercuric rise to the top of the sludge heap. He comments, “Our first US tour was so awesome! Especially at MDF, where we got a huge reaction from the freaks. The overseas freaks were more straight than the Japanese freaks and I seemed to know how to help them enjoy a metal show. Great!”
He’s not alone in his enthusiastic appraisal - the “overseas freaks” were losing their minds during Coffins’ all-too-short MDF set, myself included. Live, Coffins kicked up some of the more vicious circle pits I’ve ever whirled through; their D-beat/crust influences shone grimly through the darkened venue and called up the ghosts of grinders passed. Those of us who’d had the foresight and luck to catch them at one of their other more intimate East Coast shows were treated to an honest display of sheer amplifier worship and keelhauled sludge the likes of which we haven’t seen since Eyehategod first stumbled out of their opium den and turned up the distortion.
Uchino seemed a bit less enthused about our fine American roadside, er, “cuisine” – “I was surprised that the change of climate is sharper in the US than in Japan, but we were also bewildered by the difference in gastronomic culture. I continue to think that I can't get used to this!” A worrisome thought, to be sure, coming as it does from a man whose homeland boasts the highest number of hot-dog-eating contest winners per capita in the world. Then again, we all know what hellish havoc truck stop burritos will wreak upon a hungry touring bands’ intestines late at night.
Besides their unexpected internal struggle with the East Coast’s idea of quality vittles, it’s been a good year for Coffins. Uchino explains, “When The Other Side Of Blasphemy was released on a German label in 2006 Dave from 20 Buck Spin contacted us asking to license the album for North America, that was our first contact. I knew he had released the Asunder / Graves At Sea split LP so I agreed to the offer. He is very devoted to us and we are satisfied with his work.” Their latest full-length, BURIED DEATH (20 Buck Spin), was recently released by the aforementioned underground savants, and has been making waves on both sides of the pond
The album melds the more doom-oriented crawl of Mortuary in Darkness with The Other Side of Blasphemy’s death-metallic brutality, and includes a rerecorded version of “Mortification to Ruin,” which was originally released as a track on Coffins’ split with The Arm and Sword of a Bastard God. The unbelievably heavy riffage and bare-knuckle primal beats of the song lend it a suffocating aura, and stand out as one of Coffins’ best songs to date. He adds, “This was the first doom song our bass player Koreeda wrote when he joined Coffins, so we decided to put it on Buried Death to commemorate that. He is a big fan of Noothgrush and that influence can be heard in that song.” True that.
Recorded by band ally Shige (ex-Crocodile Skink, Snowline) at The Noise Room and graced once again by artwork from zombie-phile Chris Moyen, Buried Death itself is a behemoth of an album. “Buried Death was intended to be released for our US tour in May. There wasn't much time between deciding to get it finished by then and actually doing the writing and recording. Most of the songs were written in a very short period of time, but this tight schedule brought with it a lot of concentration, and we are satisfied with the result. Buried Death came quite naturally and the rhythm patterns on our past releases were quite singular. This time we focused more on the rhythm patterns and as a result there is more variety in the pacing. This pattern will continue on our next split releases,” says the frontman.
Speaking of splits, Coffins seem hell-bent on living up to the age-old adage of “no rest for the wicked.” With six already under their bullet belts and several more with the likes of Womb, Spun In Darkness, Lobotomized and Stormcrow planned, it’s good to see a band so willing to play nice with others. Their most recent collaboration, a split full-length with Philadelphia-based pornogrinders XXX Maniak, includes an original Coffins tune (“The Cracks of Doom”) and a Cathedral cover (“Ebony Tears”). A comical number of XXX Maniak gems (twenty-two tracks to Coffins’ pair!) rounds out the album, including sure-to-be-Top-40-hits like “Hot Nazi Sluts Have Hot Steaming Guts,” “Perpetually Exploding Uterus,” and “Picking Up A Random Goregrind CD And Acting Out The Cover With The Girl Next Door.” Seeing a generally serious band like Coffins sharing real estate with such (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek nonsense begs the question – what exactly in Uchino grunting about up there, anyway? He demurs, “We don¹t print our lyrics and I generally prefer not to discuss the details. Our past albums were based on horror, evil, zombies, etc. This time the lyrics were just focused on the death theme.” See song titles like “Cadaver Blood” and “Under the Stench” for proof.
Uchino formed the band in 1996, but it wasn’t until several years had passed that Coffins as we know them now came to be. “At the time the band formed we were playing a heavy junk sound like Swans, Scorn and Godflesh. We had some member changes and then evolved to playing doom rock like Cathedral and Kyuss. We broke up for a while and then reformed in 2003. At that point I knew I wanted to eliminate any rock sound in our doom and I changed Coffins into a death metallic doom sound like Winter and Autopsy. With Coffins I am pursuing my ideal sound and things are progressing to a better stage each time,” he says.
Alongside the crushing riffs and punishing bass of filthy doom/death, one can also detect plenty of hardcore, thrash, and D-beat in Coffin’s murky sound. During their live shows, their constant segueing from lurching doom and knuckle-dragging death metal to faster fare spawns plenty of those aforementioned murderous circle-pits, the likes of which newjack retro thrashers and powerviolent scumdogs can only dream.
On Uchino’s musical beginnings: “I started out listening to Venom and Black Sabbath, Metallica and Slayer, then I moved onto more evil thrash from there like Bathory, Sodom, Kreator, Protector, Master and Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. Then soon I came to hear death metal and grindcore like Napalm Death, Repulsion, Death, Morbid Angel and from there to early Cathedral and Winter. I followed Saint Vitus, Candlemass, Trouble, Pentagram and Witchfinder General, and of course I was also hearing hardcore like Discharge, ENT, Heresy and Anti Cimex. Regarding the composition of Coffins songs, the influence of those hardcore bands is very big.”
Taking tips from those very bands, the absolute madness of Japanese hardcore is legendary, as is that of Japanese grind (R.I.P. Insect Warfare!), Japanese noise (Merzbow and Melt-Banana, I’m looking at you) Japanese rock (Flower-Travelin’ Band, latter-day Boris) Japanese black metal (Sigh, Gallhammer) and, well, the list continues. One thing they’ve all got in common is a strange element of “otherness” that they all carry about them. There is no simple, straight-forward Japanese music, at least as far as extreme metal is concerned. You’d think that asking a native about the reasons behind this particular musical phenomenon would yield an answer and satisfy one Westerner’s curiosity, but as it turns out, Uchino is just as puzzled as I am. “I'm not sure, but maybe Japanese culture has had some influence. Japanese people are poor at producing original stuff. However, Japanese people excel in the technology of taking in and processing various materials, so that may be a factor in producing these great bands.”
That propensity for bastardization and backwards innovation is what keeps the Japanese ahead of the pack in more ways than one. It’s interesting to see that, while Coffins are far more than the sum of their parts, their sound is so deeply-entrenched in the past that every gleam of originality comes across as almost a shock. One finds oneself so lost in the ever-so-familiar doomed tempos, deathly gurgles, and crusty d-beats that the idea of Coffins as a modern, even new, band is utterly eclipsed by those familiar elements. So intent are they on dragging you back down into the primeval sludge from whence they themselves crawled, their hapless victims stand no chance of escaping the doomed march of these Coffin beasts.
Know your poison and drink it down; Coffins will be back to suffocate the North American hordes in 2009, and as Uchino says, “Doom on!”

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