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Coffins - The Fleshland

[9th July, 2013]
[Relapse Records]

01. Here Comes Perdition
02. Hellbringer
03. The Colossal Hole
04. No Saviour
05. The Vacant Pale Vessel
06. Rotten Disciples
07. Dishuman
08. The Unhallowed Tide
09. Tormentopia


As the country that brought us seppuku, tsunamis, and tentacle porn, one would expect Japan to know a thing or two about brutality, and the latest offering from Japanese death/doom quartet Coffins, titled The Fleshland, delivers it in crashing, blood-soaked waves. Fans of brutal death metal will find all the gore-laden imagery and detuned chugging their hearts can desire; however, despite this necrotic sumo-like crush, the album seems to miss its killing stroke, hampered in part by its lacklustre production.

Coffins have been in the death metal game for a long time. Formed in 1996 in Kyoto and making a name for themselves by mixing plodding, pulverizing doom elements with the deepest, most violent depths of brutal death metal, Coffins have released an impressive 24 EP’s, splits, and full length albums since 2000. Over that time, Coffins have established a place as a premier force in the death/doom genre, attracting the attention of Relapse Records who signed them in 2011. The Fleshland represents Coffins’ first release under the Relapse banner.

From the start, there is a lot to like on this album. The opening track “Here Comes Perdition” begins by creating an introductory soundscape that brings to mind scenes of Candarian demons of Evil Dead lore, flying through darkened forests tearing through anything in their path, searching for warm flesh. Giving way to slow, building, doom-filled riffs over crashing drums, the track builds like a sonic bulldozer leading to a vocal onslaught that plays like the twisted love child of Black Sabbath and Mortician. With lyrical content like “Your entrails are eluted from all over your body/ Flow down into black-water and mix with shits”, Coffins leaves no doubt that the death metal side of their doom/death mix is in full effect. The doom side of that mix is equally evident in the drumming, which isn’t out to turn any heads with technicality or speed, but rather lays down a solid backbone on which the monstrous undead beast that is The Fleshland is built.

For all the good brought to bear with this release – all the bludgeoning aggression, all the vicious, gurgling growls—The Fleshland‘s greatest drawback is that, despite all this, sonically it doesn’t sound as good as it could, and really should. The album’s production comes across thin and amateurish, especially in the drums. The kicks lack punch and don’t stand out in the mix, the cymbals are too forward and seem inconsistent, and the snare has no space behind it.

Perhaps this lack of polish in The Fleshland is a deliberate choice, an attempt to present this recording as a raw, in-your-face throwback to a time when death metal wasn’t so far removed from its common ancestors in punk and thrash, a pushback against the over-produced, ProTools-perfect recordings heard so commonly today. While there are merits to this line of reasoning—that death metal does not have to sound perfect—it is nonetheless surprising when news releases from Relapse touted “the best production values in the band’s meaty catalogue of carnage”. For an album being pushed as a major release by a label as large as Relapse, the raw basement-demo sound doesn’t fit right. It detracts from the full power and effectiveness of the music that was written, and places them at a disadvantage against other offerings in the genre.

There is so much good about The Fleshland, but ultimately it leaves you wanting much more. Despite its expert combination of brutal death metal and stoner/doom elements, despite all its crushing riffs and blues-y grooves, the album fails to engulf the senses in its nihilistic totality. Someone needs to let Coffins know: what you’re doing is awesome, but you’re in the big leagues now and there’s no shame in sounding like it.