Twenty minutes of incomprehensible shrieking with wah-laden guitar solos and feedback: the doom metal band Cough on the An Introduction to the Black Arts split (Relapse 2010) provides a human being with enough misery to last, say, at least three days. The artful and bouldery thirty-five minute release comprises two songs, but “Gates of Madness” by Cough is the superior side. “Gates of Madness” is gut wrenching, engaging with abrasive black metal vocals with a sludge-doom backdrop. Halfway through the song the vocal style evolves to stoner rock which contrasts well within the epic dirge. The dredging guitar tones come from a barrage of cabinets and solid state Sunn amps, similar to the ones Melvins abused in the mid ‘90s. The track ends with brown notes, feedback, and almost a minute’s worth of silence.
The other side of the split is “Curse of Chains” by The Wounded Kings. Even though Cough’s side gripped my attention, “Curse of Chains” is by no means lacking. The vocals do not effuse the raw, adulterous qualities that Cough carries with their screech as the vocalist of The Wounded Kings sounds like Michael Gira with a head cold. Nevertheless, the vocals are catchy and “endure with blackest sorcery.” The organ fills this track out plump and adds a cavernous ambience. A reverberating solo piano coda trickles out from the silence that would have been the final minute of “Curse of Chains.”
Cough emerged in 2005 with The Kingdom EP which was released originally on the now defunct We Are the Label in Richmond, VA, the band’s hometown. The stoner songs on this EP are Cough’s shortest and fastest, mid-tempo on average. Their first LP, Sigillum Luciferi (roughly translated as Satan’s Seal), was put out on Forcefield Records. It is obvious from Sigillum that the band was undergoing a serious change. The songs slowed down while increasing in length and the vocals began their devolution from stoned to black. The soot cover art manifests this change visually with the upside-down cross of the Cough logo, the ritualistic centerpiece, and the pentagrams adorning each corner. As for the music, the second song on Sigillum, “Hole in the Infinite,” comes after an entire minute of feedback and a Charles Manson sample about killing. This song is the introduction to the vocalist’s forceful shriek and a foray into the more satanic metal subgenres.
Cough released a second LP called Ritual Abuse in the fall of 2010 on Relapse Records. Relapse is home of too many metal giants to list but Cough does not fit in well with their high fidelity brothers. Cough’s recordings seem as though they were recorded in a well equipped living room and provide a listening experience somewhere between Holy Mountain and Graveforests and Their Shadows. Ritual, together with Cough’s history, demonstrate that the band knows something about progress. Ritual Abuse contains novel elements, such as acoustic guitars, combined with their old doom repertoire and decent dynamic changes from song to song. However, the progression from first to second LP is mild.
The songs on Ritual often fall into the familiar pattern of sludge, black metal, and drawn out downtuned guitar chords. There is nothing unethical with putting out a heavy record. Still, heft isn’t everything and in the case of most metal, under a façade of bricks lie poor songwriting and unimaginative lyrical content. It is uncertain if Cough will be able to claw from their coffins and reach from the earth. The releases to date have been honest works of metal. But, will Cough be able to focus their energies and put forth a punishing work not unlike Death is this Communion? We know from Cough’s previous releases that they have the ability and the musical understanding to ascend but musical transcendence is another bag of tricks, a bag that will earn them a tiny place in history.