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Review: Coffinworm – IV.I.VIII

Coffinworm album cover

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Indianapolis is changing. In the past four years, the Indiana capital has hosted a Super Bowl and a Final Four, and its lush Cultural Trail was hailed in the New York Times as a “bike path to progress” just two weeks ago. The jokes about India-no-place and Nap Town are heard less frequently these days, and that Onion video about the city’s “really embarrassing bid” for the 2020 Olympics seems less on point every day. Between the increasingly luxurious Mass Ave., a bustling arts enclave in Fountain Square, and the welcoming college-town feel of Broad Ripple and SoBro, Indy is a destination now, and a deserving one at that.

But that’s not the Indianapolis that the scene lifers in Coffinworm evoke on IV.I.VIII, their second full-length for Profound Lore and first since 2010. Their Indianapolis is all dive bars and crumbling infrastructure and seedy outskirts, a place where you can still make a pretty good living selling crystal meth and forged Peyton Manning autographs. Gentrification tends to leave the weirdos behind, and weird art made in the face of that rapid change tends to have a chip on its shoulder. Indeed, the surly mix of black, death, doom and sludge Coffinworm deals in rips furiously out of the gates on the new LP. Side A opener “Sympathectomy” opens with a harrowing scream from frontman Dave Britts and doesn’t let up over its seven-minute duration. The track is an encyclopedia of everything Coffinworm does best — a grab bag of all the ugliest metal subgenres, replete with thrilling tempo changes and Britts’ impressive range of extreme vocal techniques, often fully employed within the same misanthropic lyric. The other five tracks on IV.I.VIII are somehow even better.

Nihilism was Coffinworm’s strong suit on their masterpiece of a debut When All Became None, and that much, at least, hasn’t changed. Without a lyrics booklet, it’s tough to tell what Britts is screaming about, but between the few easily decipherable phrases and the accompanying riffage, it’s clear that it’s nothing pleasant. The arrangements on IV.I.VIII are much more daring than those on When All Became None, though, or anything in the band’s world-burning live show. Sharp bursts of electronics shine through the murk in most of the songs, and pitch-shifted samples help set the dank tones of “Instant Death Syndrome” and “Of Eating Disorders and Restraining Orders.” Album highlight and closing track “A Death Sentence Called Life” even gives an acoustic guitar the floor for the outro. If the end result is the same as ever for the Coffinworm listener – that is, a sonic death blow – then the torture leading to the execution has become much more nuanced.

Coffinworm deserve a lot of credit for their ability to self-edit. The six tracks on IV.I.VIII bring their career total to 13 songs, spread across seven years of existence, and each one of those songs is excellent. That’s an almost unbelievable amount of restraint in the Bandcamp era, and it’s kept their output from becoming devalued. It’s difficult to release a metal album and have it be remembered when 100 new ones seem come out every week, but Coffinworm have made each recorded note, and especially every live show, precious. Of course, discerning Indianapolis weirdos have never needed help noticing this band, but their savvy should help IV.I.VIII mark the moment when the rest of the world caught up. Embrace the ruin.

— Brad Sanders

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