It’s no surprise death is such a common theme in metal. Whether through global religious institutions or personal musings on mortality, it’s something we struggle with both individually and as a society, a looming black unknown that begs questions about what happens when we pass on. Encoffination, however, do not ponder questions of life and death. Instead, the duo work within the mausoleum of extreme doom metal to embrace death head-on, presenting the physical inevitability and its associated rituals as telling aspects of our humanity. It’s a worthy concept, and although the monolithic heaviness and funeral procession tempos of extreme doom can make the genre a tough beast to wrangle, Father Befouled members Justin Stubbs (‘Ghoat’) and Wayne Sarantopoulos (‘Elektrokutioner’) felt up to the task when they formed Encoffination in 2008 with the intent of infusing Incantation-style death metal into a funeral doom aesthetic. 2010 debut Ritual Ascension Beyond Flesh and 2011’s O’ Hell, Shine in Thy Whited Sepulchres earned scattered underground acclaim for their unique approach despite criticisms leveled at the vapid riffing, priming my anticipation that III – Hear Me’ O’ Death (Sing Thou Wretched Choirs) would finally eliminate this flaw. Unfortunately something still smells foul here, and it’s not just the record’s fetid atmosphere.
But first, the positive: Encoffination are nothing if not original. It’s a simple but novel formula –take Onward to Golgotha, boil off everything but the slowest of the slow, toss in a handful of Quaaludes for Stubbs to produce his drawn-out gutturals, add some dollops of extra low-end rumble, and stir it all together in an iron cauldron with surprisingly clear acoustics. The resulting concoction sounds like it was crafted in the barn of some backwater town in the American South where the residents have formed a perverted deathcult through twisted interpretations of the Christian gospel. The mood is captivating, and ambient intro “Processional – Opvs Thanatologia” nurtures it right off the bat with deeply inhuman chants and foreboding church bells that soon incorporate themselves into the initial drumbeat of “Charnel Bowels of a Putrescent Earth.” With oppressively heavy guitars (‘downtuned to the bowels of hell,’ the band declares) and hints of morose melody, the feel is wretched, engrossing, and, most importantly, distinct. I can’t think of another band with a mystique quite like this.
There may be good reason, however, why few other groups are producing this ‘funeral death’ metal – without variation, the sound becomes outright boring. Initially overwhelming with their heft and rancid tone, the riffs soon feel dull and limp-wristed. In fact, the word ‘riffs’ isn’t entirely accurate here, both because these lethargic chord progressions can hardly be called as such, and because there’s only a single one on the entire album. That’s hyperbole, of course (the second riff shows up on “Rotting Immemorial”), but even the occasional creepy spoken word bits, background moans, and distant organs can’t distract from the tedium. Hear Me is one instance where an awful production may not have been a bad thing, if only to delude listeners into thinking there’s more happening in the murkiness.
An October release is actually perfect timing for this album, as it makes terrific Halloween porch music. Unfortunately, as a metal album, its unwavering rhythm, repetitive vocal patterns, and bland songwriting are its downfall. There are no climaxes, no highlights, no moments of conviction – the songs just shamble forward and end, like an old horse dying where it stands. Even the subdued baroque melody near the end of closer “Mould of Abandonment” and errant tremolo picking throughout do little to break the monotony, though they feel like breakaway moments amidst the flatness. Admittedly, a blastbeat in music like this would be like the Grim Reaper magically appearing and hacking your head off while you’re watching Jeopardy, but plenty of funeral doom bands (Ahab, Esoteric) can maintain a slow tempo and still be entertaining.
Listeners smitten with death worship or fans of style-over-substance Nuclear War Now! bands with similar empty riffs and misleadingly enticing names (Wrathprayer) may find solace here, but I’d rather take the musical and thematic opposite and blast Gaza’s I Don’t Care Where I Go When I Die while this drones somewhere else. Hear Me is a frustrating listen, so promising with its wretched aura and yet compositionally disappointing. Wherever we go when we pass on, hopefully this album doesn’t exist there.