The first thing that strikes you about the latest offering from Virginian stoner doom outfit Cough‘s latest album, Still They Prey, is the production. Comparisons with producer Jus Oborn’s seminal doom-mongers Electric Wizard and their psychedelic rumbling sound are obvious – Oborn’s distinctive guitar sound comes through clearly from the first measure. But, for better or worse, there’s plenty to differentiate Cough from Oborn’s other work.
Still They Prey runs to seventy minutes, hitting a fairly standard length in the doom world. They manage to pull a lot off during its eleven tracks, moving through psychedelic jams, trudging dirges, and acoustic ballads united by a suitably sombre and melancholic tone. The subject matter remains dark and brooding, with plenty of ghoulish lyrics to satisfy the most ardent of horror fans; one only need look to the story set out in Masters Of Torture, which declares that “there’s nothing left to fight/ devastation of the mind.” The album is solid, if not ground-breaking, and certainly for the most part a welcome return from the Richmond group after their five year silence.
That isn’t to say that this album is not without its weaknesses, the greatest of which is the vocal performance which, unfortunately, features heavily on the album. Two different vocal styles are employed throughout Still They Prey: a shrieking, raspy shout and high singing à la bands like Windhand. The contrast between the two does a lot to keep the album interesting and the former is particularly well applied. Standout track The Wounding Hous is turned from funereal to powerful lament thanks largely to the savage vocal delivery. It’s a style that isn’t overused. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the clean singing. Introduced in opener Haunter Of The Dark, mournful cries effectively set an appropriately haunting tone. But by the 7:00 mark it begins to lose its appeal. More glaring is its presence in Dead Among The Roses, where it borders on whiny. The sparse instrumentation also makes it impossible to ignore some awkward pronunciation as on the closing track Still They Prey. Though it is admirable that the band is experimenting with different styles of delivery, clean singing simply isn’t a strong suit.
Leaving that flaw behind, there is an awful lot to like in Still They Prey. What can sometimes be a weakness of the genre, the fact that there are only so many slow, crushing riffs and psychedelic solos before things start to sound repetitive, is here turned into a strength. Cough skilfully interlace hints of earlier melodies into their sound: as Possession comes to a frenzied head, a hint of Haunter Of The Dark keeps coming through, before being pushed back down with violence into a tumult of bass and noodling solos. The track gives off that same energy captured by bands like Church of Misery, but reveals a cohesion that ties off the whole album.
Still They Prey is no mediocre doom album: its textured use of sound, willingness to experiment with approach while staying within the broader genre of doom, and sophisticated weaving of melody throughout different tracks all speaks to an album with great ambition. It’s therefore unfortunate that just one part of that overall picture, the vocals, stop me from fully appreciating it. To quote Morpheus, “It’s like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.”
Scribed by: Will Beattie