Coffin Problem avoid the Sophomore Slump
Firmly rooted in reality, Coffin Problem is adamantly unwilling to entertain any sort of optimistic outlook. The statement on their band shirts present their perspective very factually; “The blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.” Contained within those facts is another unstated philosophy – a rejection of any afterlife, so you better learn to enjoy the here and now cause this is all we got.
Coffin Problem made their studio debut with their self-titled album in 2016, which features a snowy grave in black and white on the album cover; the headstone reads “FREE.” 2018’s follow up “So Good Nothing” follows suit but adds a splash of color into the mix of their dim color scheme with bright flames pouring out of a house depicted above a cloaked and downtrodden figure in gray scale. The same burning colors fill the wings of a butterfly completing a circular flight around the whole scene. Perhaps this is a reference to the Butterfly Effect, and the inherent meaninglessness of our lives. Abolish all sense of agency, possession, and worth, and what’s left? I assume nothing good.
This band is not quite sparkly enough for shoegaze, not fast enough for traditional metal, so let’s just say they’re straight up heavy. They jump right into their second full length with the dueling fuzzy guitar tones prominent on their first record, as if their momentum never stopped. So Good Nothing begins with “The Prelude” which spins and spins and intensifies until reaching the brink of losing control, and then suddenly vanishes into the air as quickly as it began. The wailing guitar tone turns into a sort of siren, whistling like a bomb swirling through the air as if it can’t decide where to crash. This intensity releases but doesn’t resolve, leaving the listener on edge for the next few tracks, which they trudge straight through for as long as they see fit, saving their bombs for when they will hit the hardest.
Their vocals float like a mantra coming in from every angle, over a bed of overdrive and unsettling sustain, always rising and falling, sometimes winding and curling, lulling the listener into a comatose, either to be let down gently with a smooth ending or shaken awake abruptly with a transition (see “Old Souls” into “Justification”). Layers of guitar tones take the front, driving the shifts in tempo and dynamics with a heavy and consistent foot, dragging the drums along behind them.
“So Good Nothing” is the stand-out track on the album, and shows Coffin Problem expanding their sonic palette away from dense layers of guitar fuzz. It’s a ballad with sparse and cold piano chords that are filled vocal harmonies and only a few moments of screeching guitars that they manage to sneak in. The stanzas “Sitting here, waiting / for something to come along and change everything” and “So many lives that I want to live / but only one I have to give” tie their themes of futility and aimlessness into a tight little bow that is just waiting to be pulled on.
Though I think every metal band has written a song with this riff, “Dying Age” is another standout track for me. It drags along like a bad habit you’ve been trying to quit for years now. If anyone has ever done anything along the lines of shooting themselves in the foot, the lyrics “Setting fire to yourself just to keep warm” should resonate somewhere within you. About halfway through the track, the band drops out except for a lone guitar carrying on the riff from before but with a new energy and rhythm. They spiral into a noisey raucous once again and bring back the main riff one last time, their last statement of going down swinging before finally putting this song to rest.
We all have one commonality, we are all faced with the same problem: we are all going to die. What are you going to do about it? Like their name and song titles suggest, their music dances around themes of death and anxiety like little demons celebrating Walpurgisnacht. This album offers several tumultuous moods, all somewhere in between a nervous and distraught energy, as an answer to contending with, or perhaps brought upon by, this problem. The final track “Abysmal End” leaves me about as unsettled as waking up in complete darkness and trying to figure out if what woke me was a dream, a night terror, or the very real anxieties that have been lying dormant in the back of my mind coming to fruition: “There’s no place to run, nowhere to hide.” It seems to me that Coffin Problem savors going through the slow motions of realizing their philosophy, or perhaps they’ve just read too much Jean Paul Sartre.
Support the album: https://coffinproblem.bandcamp.com/