There comes a time in life when you need to walk away from something for a little while to appreciate what you have. Whether it’s painting, turning wood, or writing music reviews, you eventually reach a point when you have to step away from what gives you life in order to recharge and attack it with renewed focus and energy. Playing in a band is no different. Being crammed in a tiny van, hauling your gear across the country, and functioning on very little sleep while spending the nights spooning with your fellow bandmates is not one’s idea of a great time, even if the pay-off of playing live and getting your music heard offsets this. Virginia’s Cough took a much-needed five year break after touring for their last album, 2010’s Ritual Abuse, and are back with their first for Relapse, the ominously titled Still They Pray, and if anything, the time off did them a world of good.
Opener “Haunter of the Dark” lurches forth with a dirty Sabbath-on-quaaludes riff that carries on for a few minutes before the drums kick in and bassist Parker Chandler (Windhand) starts screaming in anguish. Having never heard this band prior, I kept reading comparisons to fellow doom metallers Pallbearer, but this couldn’t be a more inaccurate comparison if they tried, because if Pallbearer is the mopey-yet-hopeful honor student looking to win hearts, then Cough is its older brother who’s completely given up on optimism and adhered strictly to a diet of classic Sabbath, YOB, and Electric Wizard‘s first few albums. This is doom without hope, and Cough do a damn good job of conveying unrelenting heaviness between the riffs of David Cisco and Brandon Marcey, as well as the pummeling drums of Joseph Arcaro.
That feeling of hopeless suffocation permeates throughout Still They Pray with varying degrees of success. Immediate follow-up “Possession” has one of the best drum fills this side of Bill Ward about halfway into the song’s ten-minute run time. Penultimate track and album highlight “The Wounding Hours” contains Chandler’s most anguished howls, the saddest guitar melodies, and the most methodical pacing I’ve heard all year, all set atop of an organ, and is a strong Song o’ the Year candidate. When Cough are running on all cylinders and keep their focus, Still They Pray makes for an incredible listen, and puts them in good company with other American doom metal bands.
But there’s a problem, and it’s a big one. The songs all go on for too long, taking a great idea and drilling it slowly into the ground. “Let Me Bleed” would be a stronger song had a few minutes been shorn off of its nine-minute length. Instrumental “Shadow of the Torturer” is torturous at over ten minutes. Also, closer “Still They Pray,” an acoustic ballad, would be better served if it were placed elsewhere in the album’s track listing, as it doesn’t make for a good closer. Luckily, the production by Electric Wizard‘s Jus Oborn is warm and fuzzy, especially in the guitars and bass, without suffering from too much compression.
Despite some of the qualms I have with Still They Pray, I did enjoy parts of my time with the album. It’s long in the tooth, sure, but some of my favorite doom metal bands could use some editing as well in that department. It might not be my pick for essential doom, but you could do far worse, and “The Wounding Hours” must be heard at least once. Here’s to more from these guys.