Released: 2014, Selfmadegod
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Metal’s been obsessed with death pretty much from Day One. Take a look at Ground Zero, Black Sabbath, the lead track on Black Sabbath’s debut LP, where the bleak clang of funeral bells herald the arrival of Ozzy’s “figger in black”. Those bells echo down through metal history, tolling through Metallica’s finest moment as well as Slayer’s apocalyptic (everybody dies now!) blood rain. I mean, come on. Where do metal bands spend their downtime? In cemeteries, duh. And with plenty of lyric sheet space devoted to our fragile mortality, death has always been right up there with Satan and, like, black leather as one of the genre’s primary strategies for boosting the edge and letting the punters know you mean business, dude.
Enter Encoffination, a band that devotes not just songs, not just entire concept albums but, in fact, its entire discography and conceptual existence to the theme of death. Given the style they’re working in, it’s no shock, right?
But Encoffination OWNS this shit, arguably more than any band this side of Norway. And no, no, you can’t take that away from them because singer/guitarist/bassist Justin "Ghoat" Stubbs embalms corpses and sends them off to cremation or deep-earth interment because that’s what he does at work. Like, what’s your day job, huh? For doom cred, it’s hard to beat.
Sure enough, the band’s two albums to-date have examined various aspects of death and dying. More importantly for us they’ve delivered some sick and twisty doom riffage with all kinds of slo-mo chug and churn. Good stuff all around.
Encoffination’s latest release kicks off with some this-can’t-be-a-good-sign chanting, followed by—yessir—the reverberating sound of Sabbath’s funereal bells. Howls of pain crowd the sonic horizon and then track two crushes everything in sight under a massive tsunami of guitars and pounding drums, with just enough push and plod to create a death-march dirge. The vocals show up a minute or so later and beg the question: how can a human voice sound exactly like the stone-on-stone grind of a crypt slab sliding shut? It’s a heart-stopping moment, fully transcendent and one of the best album openers I’ve heard in a while. Any doom monger should be rubbing their hands together at this point, looking forward to an entire album of this, are you kidding me?
And then, unfortunately, it doesn’t last. I don’t know what ineffable magic(k) lets a band sustain the thrill of doom for a full LP (see: Dopesmoker) but it evaporates quickly here and the vibe runs out of steam before track two is half over. A bland sameness settles right away. Aside from a couple cool moments, it doesn’t lift in until the coffin lid finally slams closed about an hour later. In the meatime, the drums are all but buried beneath a monochrome wall of guitars so devoid of rhythm or variation that it makes the bands earlier releases sound downright thrashy by comparison.
When the penultimate track, Pale Voices, opens with the desolate thud of an Elektrocutioner drum intro, it feels dramatic as hell. Maybe that’s what death is actually like: eternal longing for a drum intro. The piece takes a turn a little later when the guitars decay into a mournful feedback squall, yowling over some more ominous drum work. Surprising guitar lines snake through the morass of the closing track, Mould of Abandonment, and the endless chords finally dissipate there into a musty, crypt-like fog. Bits like these suggest that a little more experimentation might’ve given the album some texture. They certainly lend extra weight to long stretches of claustrophobia. But it’s too little too late. Nobody wants to come at a doom record for a lack of actual riffs, that’s not the genre’s point, but this release can’t hold a candle to the Encoffination’s debut, Ritual Ascension Beyond Flesh or the follow-up, O’ Hell, Shine In Thy Whited Sepulchres, and it’s partly because those slabs move. There’s something happening on them.
I’m rooting for Encoffination. Ya gotta admire their conceptual focus and purity of execution. They’re clearly not into repeating themselves from one album to the next and it feels like they’re onto something.
But whether it’s a conceptual decision, shortage of ideas or the fact that their experiments haven’t quite yielded the proper results yet, III - Hear Me, O’ Death (Sing Thou Wretched Choirs) never coalesces into the kind of all-encompassing experience that it wants to be—that it is in its opening moments. It’s the sonic equivalent of TV static, when it oughtta be more like watching Nekromantic. And that’s what you want—it’s what I want, anyway—when you’re dealing with a doom band dedicated solely to the concept of death. I’m pretty sure Encoffination has a black masterpiece snapping around in its belly, crazy to get out. But this, truth be told, ain’t it.
Review by Perimeter