Culled together on the aptly titled Forcefield Records split release, An Introduction to the Black Arts, two of next-gen occult doom’s brightest (bleakest?) team up for more than 34 minutes of torturous musical sprawl. Dartmoor’s The Wounded Kings and Richmond, Virginia’s Cough reportedly got in touch with each other before any label got involved; drawn, no doubt, by their mutual predilection for riff-led worship and affection for the genre’s forebears. If the UK and US outfits have anything in common other than riffs, feedback and plod, it’s probably an affection for Electric Wizard, though that comes out more on Cough’s 18:36 “The Gates of Madness” than The Wounded Kings’ 15:03 “Curse of Chains,” which takes a less blatantly Oborn-ian approach and shares more in concept than strict execution with the band’s Dorset countrymen and adds more traditional doom to the mix.
“The Gates of Madness” was recorded by Sanford Parker at the same time Cough put to tape their recently-released Relapse Records debut, Ritual Abuse. They showed their love of Electric Wizard there, and follow suit on this extended cut, blending in screamed vocals as well to add notes of aggressive individuality, more in line with their 2008 Forcefield debut, Sigillum Luciferi. The difference, though, isn’t so great that anyone who heard and/or dug Ritual Abuse is going to be particularly surprised by “The Gates of Madness,” and rather, I’d argue that Cough’s Side A contribution to An Introduction to the Black Arts is an opportunity for those who couldn’t get enough of their sound on the sophomore outing to once more sample their heavier, more abrasive side. With droning, ultra-low tones and lumber sufficient enough to build a house, Cough easily justify the buzz they’ve been getting lately.
For The Wounded Kings, An Introduction to the Black Arts is all the more an introduction, since it’s the first recording with a full band surrounding guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Steve Mills and guitarist/vocalist George Birch. The added rhythm section of bassist Luke Taylor and drummer Nick Collings make their presence well-felt – though I’ll say as well that I didn’t find The Wounded Kings’ The Shadow Over Atlantis full-length to be lacking fullness or personality; to be blunt, I thought that record fucking ruled – but it’s Mills’ organ and Birch’s exclusively-clean vocals that do the bulk work of distinguishing the band, highlighting the aforementioned trad doom influence while retaining the band’s burgeoning trademark individuality. While Cough’s “The Gates of Madness” seems to affirm what we all learned on Ritual Abuse, The Wounded Kings’ “Curse of Chains” begins a new era and portends well the heaviness to come from this now-completed lineup.
Mostly I’m not a fan of split releases because either the bands don’t jibe with each other or it feels too much like songs leftover from album recording sessions, but in the case of Cough, had they included “The Gates of Madness” on Ritual Abuse, the album would simply have been too long, and they mesh well with The Wounded Kings, whose cut is legitimately new and makes an excellent debut on An Introduction to the Black Arts. Whether you’re checking it out for Cough after discovering their name as up and coming in American doom or for The Wounded Kings after hearing their album and wanting to know how they sound with their new members, this split – a one-time gatefold vinyl pressing of 1,500 copies (300 green, 1,200 black) – more than justifies its malevolent presence and shows that doom toward the end of 2010 is as compellingly miserable as ever.Cough, Dartmoor, Forcefield, Richmond, The Wounded Kings, UK, Virginia