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March Of Despair was when I first noticed an uptick in Coffins songwriting ability. No longer content to just bash out the most primitive forms of death metal, this EP finds Coffins varying up their songwriting formula to include a touch more variety, though they sacrificed some heaviness to achieve it.
That's not to say they've tweaked their formula out of all recognition. This is still the Coffins we all know and love, with the loping lurch of reanimation coupled to a strict adherence to a pre-90's evil aesthetic that breathes life back into the earliest, crudest stylings of death metal. But whereas earlier albums and EPs faltered along the cracks of sluggish monotony, the band sounds much tighter here and they confidently vary the riffs and tempos accordingly. The best example of this is "Grotesque Messiah," which gallops out the gate with a blistering d-beat assault that sounds positively lightning speed by Coffins standards. That song is just nasty and points to Coffins formulating a stronger self-identity and not just being Japan's answer to Autopsy and Winter.
This increase in energy translates across the EP. Even the more carrion crawlers like "Carpet Of Bones" and "In Bloody Sewage" sound increasingly vital and less cumbersome. The former even gets a kind of Sabbathy dark-blues vibe going in the middle, while the latter rumbles and tumbles like an austere killing machine slowly pulverizing the earth beneath its treads. Finally, the wrap-up cover of Death's "Corpse Grinder" lets you know we're still knee-deep in the 80's here -- metal may have moved on but Coffins never will.
Now the drawbacks: one, Ryu is on vocals and his voice just isn't as deep and bowel-churning as Uchino's; two, the guitar and bass don't sound as heavy and fuzzed out as previously; and three, "Till Dawn Of The Doomsday" trots out that damn two-step "polka" beat that I find so dull and annoying. It's a decent song but being the opener, it often has me hitting skip. Still, despite the drawbacks mentioned above, this was the first Coffins release to mostly hold my attention and it presaged a steep rise in the quality of their most recent releases.
You know what you’re getting when it comes to Japan’s dirtiest death/doom dealers Coffins, a band who’ve managed to harness the power, atmosphere and stench of old school death metal to glorious effect. Musical innovation and progression is not really that high up on your list of priorities when you’re armed with the kind of grotesquely exhumed riffs that would make Chuck Schuldiner himself cower in fear, and over the past few years we’ve always been able to depend on these guys to provide that satisfyingly primitive bludgeoning we all need, so it’s kind of surprising to find a slightly different sounding Coffins on this release. Fear not, this is Coffins we’re talking about, so it’s not too much of a departure from their trademark sound - you won’t find any sweep picking, breakdowns or ludicrously ham-fisted dance beats here (thankfully!), but the overall sound of this release is noticeably lighter than before. Just like their last release, ‘Sewage Sludgecore Treatment’ (the band’s loving tribute to the likes of Buzzov*en, Eyehategod and Iron Monkey), primary vocal duties have now been handed over to drummer Ryo Yamada, who possesses a raspier, slightly higher growl than guitarist Uchino’s all-encompassing guttural bellows. Whilst Ryo does a great job here, it’s hard not to miss Uchino’s inimitable growl, although he can still be heard punctuating those deliciously rancid riffs with that familiar Tom G. Warrior style “OOH!” from time to time.
Coffins have always been a band to wear their influences proudly on their sleeves (as well as their shirts, jeans, and patch jackets), but have also always been adept at crafting these into something highly recognisable. So it’s a shame that some of that seems to be missing on this release; Uchino’s distinctive gurgle, that bowel-rupturingly heavy bass tone and thick, suffocating atmosphere are all strangely absent here. It’s not that the production here is bad per se, but after the ridiculous precedent of heaviness the band themselves set on albums like the classic ‘Buried Death’, this almost feels like a new kind of Diet Coffins rather than the full-on sonic depravity we’ve come to expect.
That said, there’s still more than enough to enjoy here – if you ain’t banging your head by the time opener ‘Til Dawn Of The Dooms Day’ has run its course, it’s time to take a long, hard look at your life. The spirit of Autopsy is channelled numerous times throughout this EP, with ‘Grotesque Messiah’ churning out a number of those distinctively deranged riffs, and 7 minute slugger ‘Carpet Of Bones’ engaging in some disgustingly tasty ‘Mental Funeral’ worship. Those who opt for the CD version also get a cover of Death’s ancient ‘Corpsegrinder’, a choice cut from their first demo tape ‘Reign of Terror’. If you’ve ever wondered what that song would sound like with a little more meat on its bones, then Coffins do a fine job of it here!
‘March of Despair’ may not be the band’s finest outing, but it’s still a respectable addition to their impressive discography, one that’s sure to expand to Agathocles levels of incomprehensibility if they continue on at the rate they’re going (in the time it took me to get round to reviewing this EP they’ve already put out a Decibel flexi and a split with newcomers Macabra). If you’re unfamiliar with the band, any one of their three awesome full lengths would make a better starting point, but if you’re a die-hard, there’s really no way you’ll fail to enjoy this – just don’t come expecting ‘Buried Death’ levels of brutality and you’ll have yourself a damn good time.
Originally written for http://www.grindtodeath.com/