originally written by Jim Brandon
At times it’s like the sound of the Earth dying, and other times it’s more like the tortured groans of a laborious rebirth. In a perfect world, this would be music for all people. Unfortunately, Richmond, Virginia’s Cough is not for the tender-eared or faint-hearted, and their creative means don’t generally suit the tastes of the general masses. Slow, oppressive in weight, yet brightly arranged, Ritual Abuse is an extremely impressive expedition through some of the thickest and most caustic of doom waters. Even though they haven’t been together for a terribly long time, the band pretty much nails the style perfectly in almost every way with their follow-up to Sigilum Luciferi, making a very emphatic statement that the bliss of the stoned and the might of the heavy will not go unnoticed among the whirlwind of black and death metal that has been dominating the year.
Just a few steps off of what YOB belts out, Joseph Arcaro (drums), Parker Chandler (vocals, bass), and David Cisco (vocals, guitar) lay out five substantial tracks of dense, herb-enriched satisfaction for about fifty-three minutes, and at no time do you suffer either jet lag or the bends. Those head-melting riffs and raucously psychedelic enhancements affix your attention front and center even as the closing title track sails off into parts unknown for a few minutes. Although repetition plays the typical role as in most music of this variety, there’s less emphasis on quick riff fixes and great attention paid to solid main riffs that help keep the tunes moving along even when the pace is reduced to something more slothlike.
People often speak about how music provides a bit of an escape from real-life things going on, but Cough seems to enjoy causing the opposite effect. Their sound is so all-encompassing, so utterly confining it almost feels claustrophobia-inducing at certain times, like during the hellbent opener “Mind Collpase” and riff-highlighted “Crooked Spine”. Given the fact that there is indeed sparse room to breathe as this leviathan washes over you, the precious space is often also filled with windy or stark sound effects, and there’s very little room for interpretation when they delve into less strenuous sections that rely more upon moody atmosphere as opposed to crushing rhythms. The vocals might strike some as more of an acquired taste, as the slightly warbling cleaner parts are highly reminiscent of the aforementioned YOB, but lacking in Mike Scheidt’s inimitable tones.
Ritual Abuse is much more enjoyable to listen to than to write about, as those harsh screams and jarring feedback seem to take the words right off the page. Beyond the gnarly production and hellacious character, these lengthy tunes are still solidified by the righteous songwriting skills of the bandmembers, highlighted on the booming second track “A Year In Suffering”, a veritable clinic in the best ways to showcase maximum heaviness. I’ve already seen this album land on a few year-end lists, and for some it’s understandable why something so commanding and emotionally charged would be held in such high regard. Fucked up, pissed-off doom done right.