It’s fitting, in a way. Electric Wizard more or less refuses to tour in the US, so the US gets its own Electric Wizard. That’ll show ‘em! Not that I seriously believe being a Stateside Electric Wizard was the goal or intent of Richmond, Virginia, outfit Cough when they formed in 2005 (though if it was, who could blame them for having such noble aims?), but with their second full-length album and Relapse Records debut, Ritual Abuse, it’s kind of where they’ve ended up. Opening with two massive 12-plus minute tracks — they also close with one — the record is a dirge-laden take on excessively drugged doom, in parts sounding like dark psychedelia that broke into the pharmacy after it was closed and at times so seethingly hateful it’s nearly black metal in its ambience.
In following their 2008 first offering, Sigillum Luciferi, Cough do much of the work growing into their sound through a riffing, crashing and wailing approach that will be welcome and familiar to experienced doomers. Again, Electric Wizard is the central point of reference for the four-piece, with the guitars of David Cisco offering similar plod. Cisco and bassist Parker Chandler split the vocal duties, and as much as the screams on “A Year in Suffering” set them apart, the cleaner approach that shows up throughout Ritual Abuse is so much in line with what Jus Oborn has done on the last couple Electric Wizard discs that it’s uncanny. And don’t for one second think that’s a complaint. Far from it, it sounds awesome to my ears, and the bass tone that comes out of “Crooked Spine” later in the record is so righteously doomed that I’m hard pressed to think of another American band better at this kind of musical lumbering, but original it ain’t.
Maybe it’s the Sanford Parker production, or the masterful manhandling of the ride cymbal from drummer Joseph Arcaro (Cough is rounded out by Brandon Marcey, charmingly credited with nothing but actually playing second guitar), but listening to Ritual Abuse, I don’t really care it’s derivative. I’m too deep in the riffs and the bleary-eyed grooves for it to matter one way or the other. I think a track like the hard-hitting “Crippled Wizard,” with a spindly solo from Cisco, is well aware of what it’s doing musically, of the homage it’s paying, and while I wouldn’t presume to know how Oborn or his cohorts in Electric Wizard feel about having so direct and pointed an influence, as a fan, I’m just happy to hear the sound put to such good use.
If Cough shines through as their own entity, it’s on the ultra-tortured closing title track, where the riffing takes a break from about minutes seven to 10 for an onslaught of feedback and noise before once more picking up to close out the album. Here Cough display a Zoroaster-like awareness of the modern expansion of the doom formula and show there’s more to their sound than mere tribute to their genre-leading predecessors, echoing and amplifying the chaos that opened Ritual Abuse on the track “Mind Collapse.” It’s the kind of move someone who’s been around doom for a while will appreciate more than newcomer listeners — Ritual Abuse is nothing if it’s not doom for doomers — but as a band still very much finding their way sonically, Cough deliver an impressive 53 minutes of droning metal that flows with the best of them. It’s a new side of the wide-hipped (good for breeding) Richmond scene, and I can’t imagine it’s the last we’ll here from either Cough or other bands to come in this vein. Cult doom as a new subgenre? I guess we’ll have to wait and find out.Cough, Relapse, Richmond, Virginia