Coffin Mulch - Spectral Intercession
(Memento Moron, 2023)


Since virtually all death metal bands in the last 20 years, and especially those bands that have formed in the last ten, have decided that it is no longer possible to do anything new in the genre, and that style over substance is the inexorable Law of the Land, one must adjust one’s expectations accordingly if it is even possible to listen to and cull any appreciation out of this genre anymore in 2023.  Here I am talking about self-described Old School Death Metal or OSDM which is what Coffin Mulch explicitly prescribes to.  There is great pride and sense of accomplishment in sounding exactly like other bands today, I understand, and when there is a field of 10,000 bands all playing the same chords and notes in different permutations, it seems joyful accident is the most one can aim for, in other words: circumstances, coincidences, mutations, outside of one’s control that add color and the most trifling of substances to the piddling and tired outcome.  This is where vocalist Alastair Mabon’s contribution to Coffin Mulch stands out to my ears, from the Scottish band’s inception through to this 30 minute album, their first full length after having existed for 5 years (congratulations to them for taking their time rather than jumping feet first into it).  Alastair, or Al, has a delivery that has the rare trait of sounding unique among the ocean of indistinguishable vocalists in this genre.  It is not a deep cement-truck growl or a tinny scream from a lonely grave, but somewhere beyond the two in some decrepit mausoleum in the corner of the cemetery, a kind of hysterical shouting on the cusp of breaking apart into pieces and smashing against the wall.  It is Al’s contribution that yields the most distinction to Coffin Mulch, second to Fraser’s varied drumming, and these circumstances haven't changed over the years.  The Septic Funeral EP released in 2021 inspired me to contact the band for issue 10, in part because I felt there was some unlocked “potential” behind the group to transcend their Rubicon, so to speak, or to at least maintain the same level and dynamics as in the six tracks they released then.  Especially the crawling and evil-sounding Onward To Death brought me back to the classic days of Obituary, seguing into D-Beat punkish (far more pervasive on the new album) death metal as it had, regrettably; I wanted to hear more of that, the back and forth ebb and flow, the slow doomy sections and the variation, capped off with the unusual, raw and savage vocals.  Well, come 2023 Coffin Mulch have recorded something entirely expected, which is to say, much less than expected.  The cacophonous, screaming intro, an homage to Slayer’s Hell Awaits possibly, and the Vincent Price speech and slow disharmonic burn at the start of the final track, Eternal Enslavement, are the only surprises on offer here.  The rest has been heard a million times before on other albums.  Only Into the Blood, the track they’ve released as a separate “single”, qualifies as anything remarkable for its uplifting bounce, absolutely nothing dark about it.  Of course, for some mildly groove-laden conventional brutality and for someone fresh to the genre, I can see this as being impressive.  But then, for a neophyte of any genre, any given album has the potential to sound impressive, innovative, even adventurous, which objectively speaking Spectral Intercession is about as far out to in truth as our sun is to Proxima Centauri.  The fact is, death metal circa 2023, in the light of such albums, has two roads that it can take to still have any relevance to history today: experiment with sound, production and riffs to creative something new, exciting and unheard, or take the existing stale formula and refine it enough by way of good and memorable songwriting to produce entirely new impressions.  Coffin Mulch have evidently chosen the latter path, and have failed.  Pulling anything remarkable out of the old corpse of death metal seems to no longer be possible for them, their gas tank is empty, and even Alastair’s raw and unhinged vocals seem wasted in the pallid context.  Energy without ideas, a corpse with rigor mortis riding the bicycle propelled by inertia, as in the old surrealist image, this is what this is, in a new dull and grey light causing me to pause and struggle to understand what I saw in them earlier.  The present has that way of changing the past.

Read more of my reviews in issue 10 of Convivial Hermit, order here.