PICK OF THE WEEK: Cough’s nasty doom spreads hopelessness and despair on ugly ‘Still They Pray’

CoughHey, who’s ready to party? It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the States, so the shitty beer will flow like, eh, water, and people will do dumb things in honor of America. On top of that, we have a joke candidate clinching a party’s official nomination, which has to mean the Masonic-envisioned Armageddon may really be upon us, and another probable candidate who may have done some criminal shit. So let’s unleash the doom.

There may not be a more fitting time for Virginia doom horde Cough to return to us, six years after their last full-length record “Ritual Abuse” scorched the Earth. Now they drop into our laps the vicious, gnarly “Still They Pray,” a 67-minute face burner that has the band seriously stepping up their game (not that they needed to do that in the first place) and firing a blinding warning shot that they’re here to dominate the genre. The record is produced by Electric Wizard’s Jus Osborn, and let’s get this out of the way, yes, it does have a serious EW vibe (especially vocally) that bashes you in the face right away, mere minutes into the fray. But the sound suits them, and they’ve actually been travelling this road for quite some time, so if anything, they sound in place.

12 Jacket (Gatefold - Two Pocket) [GD30OB2-N]Cough have been doing their thing for a little over a decade now, but they haven’t really flooded the market with music. Less is more, right? Other than aforementioned “Ritual Abuse,” they also have their 2006 EP “The Kingdom,” their 2008 debut full-length “Sigillum Luciferi,” as well as splits with Windhand and The Wounded Kings to their name. “Still They Pray” arguably is their strongest effort yet, and the band—bassist/vocalist Parker Chandler (also of Windhand), guitarist/vocalist Dave Cisco, guitaristr Brandon Marcey, and drummer Joey Arcaro—sound on fire and determined to spread their dark arts to any willing or unwilling participants who stands in their way.

“Haunter of the Dark” rips open the record with stinging feedback and burly doom riffs, with Cisco’s psyche-washed singing hanging over top like a fog. The track keeps mauling and tricking your brain, with some harsh screams entering the mix at times, and monstrous punishment flattening your chest. The track ends amid sonic torment and dark, smudgy playing. “Possession” runs 10:25 with the bass slinking in, and then the storm unloading. Harsh screams ramble along with the deliberate tempo, as the track sits in a steaming simmer. The guitars later bubble and blaze, stomp and swagger with energy, as the whole thing heads into the void. “Dead Among the Roses” is a 10:47 bruiser, with the singing more menacing, guitars spitting static, and a mucky sentiment. The track keeps sprawling, with strong soloing breaking out and unleashing molten power, and the pace suffocating. The band pours every ounce of vitriol over the finish, as the song disappears into corrosion. “Master of Torture” keeps the slow pain rolling, with a smoky pace and gurgling growls adding to the bloodshed. In fact, the track sits in the mud for a long stretch until things suddenly kick into higher gear, and the assault is on. “Live to hate, hate to live,” Chandler wails, as soloing melts over top and burns out everything.

“Let It Bleed” is the most surprising thing on this or any other Cough record. It’s a sun-scorched ballad filled with torment and confusion, something that reminds me of something Black Sabbath would have turned out in their glory years. By the way, don’t let the word “ballad” fool you. This still is hellish and rife with torment, with Cisco wailing, “Life and death, all the same,” amid passionate guitar playing and imagery of everything you know burning down. It picks up even more intensity toward the end, ending the track on a fiery note. Great song. “Shadow of the Torturer” is a disorienting instrumental, with a long jam section built into the first stretch of the song before really going off and letting the chaos fly. This feels like an emotional bloodletting, one that sets the path for the rest of the record. “The Wounding Hours” has haunting organs pouring in, gut-wrenching growls, and awesome soloing that could blind you. As the track reaches its finish, it finds a way to get even nastier, ending its run with a bristling onslaught. That all bleeds into the closing title song, another disarming one that travels a rustic folk road, one that leads to horrific discoveries. Acoustic guitars ring out, while Cisco’s raw singing pushing the pace, painting an unsettling, almost hopeless picture. That darkness crawls along right up to the final moments, where solemnity disappears into a cavern of noise that gets sucked back into space the moment it appears.

Cough’s name deserves to be mentioned among modern doom’s finest acts, and “Still They Pray” might be their act to violently take that distinction for themselves. This is a sludgy, evil-sounding, crushing nightmare of a record, and it should terrify the uninhibited. There’s no turning back now, the world is burning, and Cough is just the right band to add the fuel to the flames.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/cough666

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://relapse.com/

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