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Prior to listening to Cough's new album, Ritual Abuse, I was very excited. Every review of this album was amazing, heralding one of the best doom record of the year. How this was on par with the greatness of Electric Wizard (which is a band I've never gotten into before, so I guess that should have been my clue). Needless to say I looked forward to listening to these tracks - enough to do so completely sober (as I'd begun the disc a couple times drunk and decide I wanted to be in z clear state of mind) - and was confused by the end.
The good about Ritual Abuse, and it's a big good, is the music. This is doom metal; the drudging guitars the slow and heavy drum beats the essence of death and despair, this is all I love about the genre. It really is a throw back to the classic days of doom. Tag all the necessary comparisons musically to Pentagram, Sabbath, and the rest, and it all fits like a glove.
The bad about Ritual Abuse is the vocals. Their are two vocalists, of different styles, but neither do it very well. One is striving to fall into a sludge sound, with screamed, un-comprehensible lyrics over the despair behind. The other vocalist sings in a more clear fashion - barely. His vocals are a higher pitch and a bit winy, and if his were the only style I could let it all go; they are manageable. But moving between two sub-par vocal techniques, it is unbearable really.
The first two songs, "Mind Collapse" and "A Year In Suffering," fall into the above described blending of opposite styles. It doesn't work for me, and these songs are forgotten as soon as they are over. The album does get better as it goes on, as the vocals move away from this dichotomy of styles and into a more drone direction. Partially in the third track, "Crippled Wizard," and more fully in the following one, "Crooked Spine," the vocals begin to match the dreary counterpart of the music - with almost no screaming at all. The vocals are semi-clean (not fully, but enough that I can enjoy) and the singer takes a ghostly operatic tone; still with the higher-pitched wailing of before, but it seems not as forced as in the beginning. These are the songs I like, bringing the album in an upward direction overall; still not great but bearable. The final song, "Ritual Abuse," falls into the pattern of the first two - it seems all of the 12+ minute tracks are this way, while the shorter ones (about 7 and 9 minutes long) are more straight-forward doom. I don't know if it was planned this way, but it's what I got out of it.
This blending of amazing and horrible really makes this record something odd for me. The songs are long and the vocals are few, so I could easily see this as being a decent record. But the vocals are just so bad and annoying that even though they are only on 1/3 of the album, it is too much for another sit through. I'm still getting into sludge and the various sub-genres, so I suppose there is that basic fault in my opinion. I'm willing to bet that if you like sludge you'll love this album and call me an asshole for disagreeing. But if you're like me and aren't into sludge too much (or at all) then I hope this article is a good representation of what to expect.
If they had instrumental songs, it'd be amazing, if they had cleaner (or at least semi-understandable) vocals this could have been a 10 out of 10 album, easily one of my favorite albums, and one of the best of the year. With the eclecticness, between the music and song however, doesn't even make it a contender. Take that Brando.