(DGR continues a week-long effort to catch up on reviews before immersing himself in year-end LISTMANIA, with two more write-ups today. Additional installments of this collection will be added throughout what’s left of this week.)
Coffin Birth – The Serpent Insignia
It’s easy to imagine that Coffin Birth initially grabbed a lot of headlines based on the almost jaw-dropping resumes of the musicians involved: The band are constructed out of a large chunk of the current Hour Of Penance lineup, a foundational pillar of Fleshgod Apocalypse (and a former Hour Of Penance member), and a vocalist whose credits are vast amongst the death metal scene, including Beheaded as well as being credited on Metal-Archives with having appeared on a Hydrocephalic release, which is something I haven’t thought about since that initial 2010 demo hit with Matti Way of Pathology handling vocals.
The group seems to have formed explosively fast and then recorded music just as quickly. What probably surprised people was what Coffin Birth‘s music is, as displayed on the group’s debut album The Serpent Insignia, released on November 30th via Time To Kill Records. Coffin Birth are a classically HM-2 fueled (as our own premiere of “Red Sky Season” will demonstrate) grinding death metal band, replete with a ton of blasting, galloping, and even a glorious d-beat or two. If any band was likely tailor-made to worm its way into this one’s heart, then Coffin Birth and The Serpent Insignia are the latest suitors during 2018.
The Serpent Insignia is an absolutely relentless disc — ten tracks, no intro, and each song punching in at about three minutes in length, ranging from a blast-heavy collective of songs to even dropping into a groove that does a better job of The Haunted than The Haunted did on their most recent album. Vocalist Frank Calleja sounds absolutely ferocious on this disc, settling into a mid-range yell real fast that just seems to explode across the whole album. Metal can often focus inwardly on pain but just as often erupts violently outward, and in Coffin Birth‘s case, they go for that second method; each song is just another wall-of-flame applied to the Earth before it.
The Serpent Insignia makes one hell of a first impression. Its opener “Throne Of Skulls” (no word on if there’s a buff goat demon flexing upon it) has its foot planted firmly on the accelerator from the word go and it is almost animalistic how quickly it provokes a headbanging reaction, like the lizard part of the brain is responding before the logical part does. It hears that grinding guitar tone and that insanely fast rhythm section hammering away and “oh, look, now I have a sore neck again.”
Like Bloodbath with The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn earlier this year, Coffin Birth are wholly bought into their worship of the chainsaw death metal guitar tone, albeit a whole lot more serious and pointed, with that buzzing grind being the bedrock upon which The Serpent Insignia was erected. Each of the album’s ten songs is neatly concise, most staying in the three-to-four minute range, and the album in total clocking in at a smidge over thirty-five. Coffin Birth pull from a well-worn playbook and then execute so flawlessly that it almost feels like cheating, creating the deathgrind equivelent of chugging a two-liter of Soda and not feeling guilty about it afterwords.
“Casket Ritual’s” hammering one-two rhythm, which speeds up faster and faster as its title becomes the only words searing itself into your brain, establishes the sort of format by which the album is defined. Even though the song-lengths seem long for a grindier death metal album, they move so quickly you almost don’t notice the time passing as the band glory in moving from grind-riff to punk-riff-to grind-riff, building up such a hefty wall of guitar-tone that it is kind of like drowning in feedback and reverb while someone yells at you in the forefront.
Coffin Birth do change up the formula early on for a brief bit during “The Red Sky Season”. Although we spilled plenty of ink when we ran the premiere for it, the song needs to be highlighted once again, as the group make expert use of the caveman-stupid swinging groove that makes up the bulk of the song. It’s one of the few “mid-tempo” moments throughout a disc that mostly plays at screeching speed. It comes after a three-song assault of “Throne Of Skulls”, “The 13th Apostle”, and “Godless Wasteland” which play out like a triptych of circle-pit guitar songs. Although, to be fair, the massive bulk of The Serpent Insignia is still given over to sheer brutalizers that combine with speed.
Songs like the pairing of “Christ Infection Jesus Disease” — one of the more word-salad-heavy songs on the disc — and “From The Dead To The Dead” prove to be highlights of the album’s middle segment, especially as “From The Dead To The Dead” shoves all pretense aside and just becomes a full-blown death metal song, missile-barrage from the drum-kit and all. Though, “Christ Infection Jesus Disease’s” opening start/stop rhythm is an undeniable neck-snapper in its own right, that real quick segment of just bass guitar, drummer, and vocalist that lasts for all of about ten seconds is a whole lot of fun, as is the subsequent d-beat that pops up for the rest of the song.
Coffin Birth accomplish what they set out to do with almost frightening ease, adopting the deathgrinding persona and then nailing it so effortlessly it almost feels like cheating. From moment one you know exactly what to expect from The Serpent Insignia and it spends the next ten songs reinforcing that point over and over. It’s not a genre convention-breaking release by any means;, instead it executes perfectly upon a well-drawn blueprint that has already been honed over many years, and does so well enough that it shows why people love this style so much in the first place. It picks and chooses what would be most effective in its buzzing guitar assault from that genre-bible and then explodes that upon the listener in one expulsion of fury after another. A relentessly pounding rhythm section, a vocalist whose yell sounds frighteningly sincere in the violence it intones, and two guitars that play off of one another and sound like revved-up chainsaw engines for that grinding guitar tone.
You could ask for more, but to be honest with you, the more that I would want would simply be more of what they’re already doing — more grinding moments, more full-blown death metal, and overall, more of what’s already here. The Serpent Insignia is my junk food — just insert it into my veins already.
Wurm Flesh – Excoriation Evisceration
So let’s talk about Sacramento again.
I highlight this every year, and this year is no different, as every year I tend to find one album that is just a monstrously straightforward guitar-riff apocalypse of a disc. 2018 has been interesting as there’s actually been a small collection of them across the whole of the heavy metal spectrum, and Excoriation Evisceration from Sacramento-based brutal death metal band Wurm Flesh is the one that occupies the heavier side with a steadfast grounding.
It’s also my album for the year in which the band’s name contains some permutation of “Flesh”, though no one is going to top the ALL-CAPS-FOREVER FLESHGORE until I inevitably find the group who’ve just named themselves Flesh Flesh.
The group’s first full-length release, delivered in early November via Comatose Records, is a nine-track gore-soaked death metal affair that has absolutely no time to fuck around. It clocks in at barely over twenty-five minutes and the majority of the songs present on Excoriation Evisceration don’t even bother reaching for the three-minute length — with the exception of “House Of Flesh” with its almost doom-metal length of four-and-a-half minutes. There’s a perfunctory nature to the tracks, as if the Wurm Flesh crew hit certain points in a song and thought to themselves, “Well, do we have anything more to say? No? Well then wrap this fucker up”, and then sent it out in one final slamming groove or crawling guitar part.
Excoriation Evisceration is a suitably squishy album for its chosen genre-fare. Drummer Mitch Bauder keeps a consistent and relentless hammering going throughout most of the songs while the guitar and bass crawl all over it, rhythmic riffs consisting of either a percussive chug to keep in line with the drum battering or a wall of notes so immense that they often become a shifting whirlpool dragging people down. It isn’t an album for subtlety either, so if something doesn’t serve a purpose in the band’s constant quest for brutality it quickly gets tossed to the side.
After the album’s ambient intro, the first actual song of “Deceased And Festering” is a minute-and-nine-second crusher of an instrumental that serves mostly as a further intro for the album’s first true beating, “Enshrined In Rot” — which is where vocalist Richard Cobb gets to let loose alongside guitarist Rob Calhoun (often times double-pronged on the vocal front) in the first full-band assault on the album. Wurm Flesh are big fans of the low and indecipherable on Excoriation Evisceration, and that vocal attack is undeniable just how inhuman it becomes over the course of the album’s twenty-five minutes. There are words present. but they are buried within the murk and sewage that is this sort of gory album’s bread-and-butter.
Excoriation Evisceration also ranks pretty high on the Dying Fetus “where the fuck did that come from?” scale, in that the band adopt a similar trait of shifting from the brain-dead stupid death metal beating to swirling technicality at the drop of a hat, with almost no warning. The only time you might get a heads-up is when the bass work starts getting real intricate and the band bring bassist Curtis Reilley really far forward in the mix. Wurm Flesh will be marching along at a high tempo and then out of left field will come this monstrously fast bass-guitar line that pops into place and the song shifts into an incredibly fast, incredibly intricate megalith of music for a minute or so. The aforementioned scorching of the earth that is how Wurm Flesh end their songs when they feel they’ve accomplished everything they need to is often that point. It’s the final searing of the meat that Wurm Flesh have been tenderizing throughout the whole song.
There’s something to be said for a disc that knows exactly what it wants to be and is just “that” for a short period of time. Excoriation Evisceration is one of those albums whose blueprint is so clear from moment one that there really is no experience of shock at any point throughout; you know exactly what you’re in for. It’s the case of a record being what it promised on the front cover — awful things happening, plenty of meathooks, and a throne of bodies? You’d be fairly safe in guessing there’s awful things happening within the music as well, just as obsessed with viscera and the various intestinal fluids and decay that this music considers delightful.
In a year in which heavy metal has had a lot of fun hybridizing genres, leading to all sorts of bastardizations and awful portmanteau of various genre descriptors, the fact that Wurm Flesh are so uncompromising in the realm of brutal death metal is a sure change of pace. As the group’s debut album, Excoriation Evisceration is an excellent first mark in proving that Wurm Flesh know what they plan to be and how they’re going to become it, if a little less revving-car-engine and more discernible than most. They display an expertise in their musical beatdowns that it takes some groups years to learn and master, and they do so while leaving their listeners very little room to catch up or relax. It’s a twenty-five-minute low-growled roar followed by a musical hurricane and is worth checking out.