At what point does death metal qualify as “old-school?” It’s odd to think that an entire sub-genre is predicated, in part, on how long it happens to have existed, and in this world of hyper-convenient immediacy, surely that span is shrinking at a rapid pace. One day, some poor fuck will be mooning over a Suicide Silence record telling his mates how the classics are always the best,1 and I will spin in my grave so fast I’ll bore into the center of the Earth. Rather than simply exhuming the dead, fortunately, Oakland’s Extremity lean more towards the Frankensteinian school of science. Extremity aims to stitch as many mangled morsels of death metal as will fit on their freakish frame, using the varied experiences of its members as an inspiration. Existing resolutely then, but undeniably now, Coffin Birth breathes dread life into the definitively lifeless.
Little more than a year ago, I reviewed Extremity‘s debut mini-LP, Extremely Fucking Dead,2 and was swiftly reminded of just how entertaining death metal can be. A supergroup of sorts, members of Vhöl, Agalloch, Vastum, and Cretin came together to write some of the best classic death riffs I had heard all year. My only complaint was its abrupt length. Coffin Birth, with the material unchanged in both delivery and quality, puts paid to those reservations via format alone.
Once more, Scandinavian musculature reinforces traditional Floridian aggression, combining ghoulish savagery with undead brawn. While the album is very much a continuation of Extremity‘s prior release, it’s immediately clear that a greater emphasis has been placed on sharper, more coherent riffing. Plenty of that amorphous savagery still remains, but minutely better processed, further complimented still by a small, but enhanced, sense of melody. For example, “Where Evil Dwells” and “Grave Mistake” both utilize eerie leads as the glue for their almighty riffage, the latter sporting a killer solo. In fact, the transitions are positively gold-plated. Shelby Lermo, when he’s not breathing a furnace down the mic, joins Marissa Martinez-Hoadley in putting together some of the best OSDM rhythms I’ve heard in a long time. Each lead, without fail, immaculately raises yet another bile-bleached riff to wreck the neck.
The particulars of Coffin Birth may not be that apparent for those without a head for the genre; this isn’t a record to pull you from your power metal pulpit. But Extremity are not attempting to reinvent the death metal wheel. Rather, they aim to exemplify it with as much evil exuberance as possible. For those with the taste, it’s unthinkable not to approve of the bounding Swedeath-meets-Bolt–Thrower of “Like Father Like Son” or the rattling palm-mutes on “For Want of a Nail.” Even the crawling chorus of “Umbilicus” excites with its stark change in tempo. I challenge anybody with a love for riffing to deny the quality of closer “Coffin Death,” whose cleaving chugs draw an arterial spray of serpentine tremolos.
Coffin Birth is a brilliant example of the combination of fun and furor that often seems lost in today’s extreme landscape. Extremity haven’t fallen into the gaping maw of bands mindlessly aping classic albums, but have instead garbed themselves in a livid livery to extol such legendary virtues, without ever sacrificing their unique personality. Although the band’s material is retro by nature, its ability is such that it also neatly quantifies an entire genre, boasting a quality sure to induct the project as favorites of future generations proving, once again, that death metal is extremely fucking alive.