I made a pact with myself to listen to more death metal in 2020. Although it sometimes gets obscured by my love of prog and craving for diversity, death metal, in its many forms, is my favorite genre of metal. I listened to my share of quality death in 2019, but there were some glaring oversights. Restarting mentally in a fresh year contains challenges during what has been a strange summer in my neck of the woods. Australia is in the midst of a devastating bushfire crisis and severe drought, so the fun-loving summery good vibes we are accustomed to, have been undercut by widespread devastation of habitat, wildlife, property, and loss of lives. Throw in the usual trials and tribulations of life and it’s been a strange time. But as is often the case, metal is a cathartic remedy to tough times. And some good old, no-frills death metal played with ferocity and feral rawness is just what the doctor ordered. Chile’s Coffin Curse aren’t in the game to reinvent the wheel or practice innovation, however, the duo stick to what works in unleashing their debut LP, Ceased to Be.
Ceased to Be cuts to the chase and rarely relents across its 43-minute duration. Featuring a rabid viciousness and raw, dirty streak common in the South American extreme metal scene, Ceased to Be pulls no punches and the tight, frantic execution sets up a suitably depraved and exhilarating dose of gritty death. Most songs are speedy, thrash-induced old school death numbers, with Coffin Curse hitting the afterburners and interspersing the fleet-fingered, warp speed fury with solid dynamic shifts and headbanging grooves, loosening up the vibe and avoiding monotony. The musicianship is both technically proficient and tightly performed, keeping the aggression and deep, muffled growls smack at the forefront. At its snarling, gnashing best, Ceased to Be ticks plenty of boxes for death metal enthusiasts.
Drawing influence from the fertile grounds of the early ’90s Floridian scene, and their South American heritage, featuring traces of culprits such as Morbid Angel, Monstrosity, and old school Sepultura, Coffin Curse mine the past without sounding like a derivative, poor man’s knock-off. “Where Sickness Thrives” spends most its time jammed in high gear, barring a bass-heavy mid-paced rumble, segueing into a nifty guitar solo and scorching climax. The song’s general style and speedy core resonate solidly, with much of the album’s first half featuring similarly amped, blasting fare. Rather than fade out as the album progresses, Coffin Curse reveals a bit more variety during the album’s second half, fighting off the threat of becoming too one-dimensional. Wedged between two fast, bloodthirsty gems, the excellent “Extinct” explores doomier territory with sledgehammer impact, via thick, addictive riffs, sinister melodies, and wicked guttural growls. More similar deviations from the relentless speed would have been a welcome addition.
“Deep in Streams of Purifying Dirt” closes the album and provides further evidence of the band’s ability to mix up the dynamics and throw in some structural curveballs. Although a touch bloated at nearly 10 minutes in length, it’s also a frequently engaging, gripping affair. While Ceased to Be is a largely enjoyable debut release, it has some wrinkles and issues that prevent it from hitting that elusive next level. The song-writing is commendable yet overall falls short of the highly memorable and gripping traits of old school death of the more elite standard. Several songs are solid at the moment but lack identity and tend to blur together. Meanwhile, the serviceable production packs a reasonable wallop, with impressively audible bass, hindered by a squashed mastering job.
Overall, Coffin Curse serve up a fine example of the quality inherent within the South America metal scene with a solid debut that should hold the band in good stead in setting up a foundation for greater things to come. When the dust settles, Ceased to Be may struggle to compete with the elite purveyors of old school death in 2020, but it punches above Coffin Curse‘s low profile and remains an accomplished and worthy album, which is hopefully a solid omen for the quality of old school death set to be unleashed in 2020.