Sludge is, to me, a strange beast. When I hear it, I immediately fall in love. An ocean of distortion; tectonic pacing; so many places to do the single neck-shattering head bang – I should love it all. But after a song or two, either the band throws a change-up at me and keeps my interest, or it doesn’t and loses it.
Cough is an excellent band making evil sludge. Their sound is profoundly immense, and their songs are St. Vitus slow. The vocals are raspy, smoked out and distant, slightly sung but mainly yelled. They create the dripping tomb atmosphere perfectly. And the first two tracks I listened to grabbed and held me through their lengthy process. There is nothing not to love about the record at that point.
But by track three I found myself thinking of other bands and other songs. Then about my schedule. Then about how itchy this one spot between my shoulder blades was. And I realized the band had lost me. It had become background music; shopping-center meaningless.
And I know why. The great sludge-type bands I grew up with, like Sabbath, or the ones I found as an adult, like Melvins, threw a lot of stylistic creation at me. I LOVE the muddy grave sound, but for me it needs to be a tool rather than the entire machine.
Nonetheless, sludge fans are so made as to revel in that dirgish ponderosity, and Cough delivers ponderous upon ponderous. Opening track “Haunter of the Dark” is a showcase for the band’s ethos; grueling and mind-clawingly filthy, it grabs and drags you along into the muck. “Possession” takes you even further, with achingly screamed lyrics, lava flow chords, and a desperate chorus. And so the record continues for the next five tracks, with the only real surprise being the inclusion of a droning keyboard on “The Wounding Hours”.
The titular final track, “Still They Pray”, does manage to mix things up a bit. An acoustic, folky memorial with simple, lazy-sad sung lyrics, it does feel like an appropriate ending to the otherwise massive sounding record, pulling things together nicely.
What can you take away from this? If you like sludge, and you don’t find your mind wandering after several minutes, this record kills. As with me and death metal, if your love for long, nasty, coffin burning heaviness dismisses any of the problems I mentioned, this is a great record that you should check out. If you ARE like me and need that extra something, this record will shine for a while, but eventually it will drift into the back of your mind, and so your collection.