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Cough - Still they Pray album art

Still They Pray

3rd June 2016 – Relapse Records

01. Haunter of the Dark
02. Possession
03. Dead Among the Roses
04. Masters of Torture
05. Let it Bleed
06. Shadow of the Torturer
07. The Wounding Hours
08. Still They Pray

Doom revival is doing well and is a pretty broad church, welcoming both hardline traditionalists and the most unpredictable musicians in metal. Cough are very much the former, and riding a wave of good vibes, they unveil their latest capital-D Doom offering, Still They Pray. With a sizeable following and a healthy buzz, Cough are in an enviable position – but with their classic doom vibe, are they bringing anything new to the table?

From the outset, Cough are doom for doom fans. Metalsucks tried very hard to get the term Vest Metal coined, and though it didn’t really take off it’s the first thing I think of when I listen to this. The intro to “Haunter of the Dark” – harsh feedback as a guitar is plugged in – sets the tone for the rest of the album, leaning heavily towards a lo-fi 70s aesthetic. There’s an immediate sense of this all being a bit too familiar and maybe edging towards being a little affected. The fuzzed-out songs all lumber in the same direction, and by the halfway point it seems they all have the same meandering agenda.

Of course, this is a good doom album by anyone’s standards. They don’t go down the Conan route of making all the things heavier than the other things, so we get a fairly varied selection of slower tunes, and even an opener that had a hint of a mid-paced bounce. Cough are heavy but effortlessly so; this confidence allows flourishes to shine through, like the memorable but not-quite-hooky choruses. It’s these tangents that give the band their personality; if they’re not treading much new ground, they’re having a rad time with what they’ve got.

Contextually, albums like this are up against the likes of Pallbearer and Yob or even Elder and Bast; artists that take the frameworks of an existing genre and work just outside of them. Cough are working within the doom framework, although that certainly doesn’t seem to be an issue; they appear happy with their tropes. Still They Pray is certainly a good doom record, but maybe a little too comfortable with what it’s created.

But sticking to tropes isn’t always a negative; they play on recognisable themes to effect, and it helps that their flavour of retro metal is in vogue. A big part of Cough’s appeal is them nailing the gritty theatricality, and though a cynic could read that as affectation they are hugely confident in what they do. Unsurprisingly this works to great advantage.

So: business as usual for Cough, but big business. Top shelf. Large and in charge. Look for this to pop up in everyone’s top ten picks later in the year. If I was pushed, given that we’ve already had a Bossk and a Conan, I don’t think it’ll be on mine.

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