Splits, spouses, sludge and selling out… Japanese death doom dealers COFFINS take KIM KELLY to ‘THE FLESHLAND’ to talk their past, present and future
The Land of the Rising Sun has earned its out-there reputation about a billion times over by now, so it’s always a bit refreshing to stumble across an artistic endeavour that sticks to a comfortingly familiar script instead of blasting out into the stratosphere on steel wings of glitter and tentacle porn. That’s how I felt the first time I heard Coffins, anyway, and they’ve done little to disappoint, or deviate, in the ensuing half decade. Not only have they chosen to take a path often traveled, they’ve managed to Godzilla stomp all the way down and back again without seeming to break a sweat or whip off Uchino’s ever-present sunglasses. The trio (now quartet, thanks to new vocalist Ryo) have stayed true to the same ugly, death/doom sound they’ve been peddling for most of their unlucky 13 years, though it took a while for them to arrive at that sickly sweet spot.
“Strictly speaking, we changed three times the sound style,” guitarist Uchino clarifies. “We started from 1996, playing a slow heavy junk style in ’96-’97, then sludge/doom rock ’97-2000 and then changed to the current doom/death style from 2002 on. But the music element of doom was always our base. Only our doom element won’t change in future.”
That’s not to say that Coffins fans can expect to see any massive stylistic changes, even within the doomed realm. Fear not, these Japanese sickos won’t be transitioning to occult rock or plagiarising Candlemass anytime soon.
“The music that we are playing fundamentally hasn’t changed mostly since old times,” Uchino is careful to stress. “But each part’s technical capabilities are improving by adding new members. We became able to play songs more skilfully than in old times. As for the lyrics, [ex-drummer] Ryo came to write all as he is now the current vocalist, so it will be a good change.”
Uchino confesses that, while he’s still interested in the sound, he’s not quite as up on the newer wave of death/doom that’s been barreling through the underground like a particularly fetid tsunami for the past few years, exclaiming, “I will only hear old records like Autopsy… because I’m an old man already!”
No matter how far behind the trend these lot may profess to be, they’ve certainly found plenty of time to bury their heads in the studio. Their latest album, ‘The Fleshland’, is due out soon on Relapse Records, which marks a pretty big step for these underground OGs, and a partnership that will undoubtedly get their name in front of some new pairs of eyes. Uchino seems unfazed at the idea of catching flack for “selling out,” though; “Nope, as Relapse works with the doom death bands like Inverloch and Hooded Menace we are working with them in peace. We are not big, and just an underground band, so they understand that that part is our charm. They did not present nit-picky conditions on the contract. About goals, I have no idea, but anyway I hope as many people as possible to hear our sound!”
Coffins have been astonishingly prolific over the past few years; hell, since their last album, ‘Buried Death’, in 2008 they’ve vomited out 10 different splits, alongside singles, demos, compilations, and covers. The mind boggles.
“We have no time always!” Uchino mourns. “There are few split releases offered from us, I think – only with Cianide, Spun In Darkness, the ‘Doomed to Death, Damned to Hell’ three-way split. Most were offers from a band or a label. But if at that time we think a release offer is precious for us, we accept the offer and make the time for it desperately. As a result, I think that we can be working in the best situation.”
The aforementioned three-way split stands as one of their best, simply because it features the sickening stylings of fellow death/doom cretins Anatomia alongside like-minded doomhaulers Grudge. It made for a so-good-it-hurts tracklisting, challenged only by the ‘Sewage Sludgecore Treatment’ EP, Coffins’ love letter to all things New Orleans-bred and opiate-addled. Uchino made sure to shout out his boys: “The split was our plan; we invited them and released it. Of course they are still our good friends!”
It’s always nice to see scene vets getting together to make, er, beautiful music, especially in a less-than-impressed kind of environment like Japan.
“Japan has only a pop culture. Metal music isn’t popular in Japan, and hasn’t rooted in the Japanese music scene at all. Ozzfest was held in Japan last month, but metal bands almost weren’t booked. In order to gather customers, some J-pop groups and an ‘Idol’-group appeared! What the fuck? How ridiculous! Naturally a band like us isn’t generally recognised. For example, the people show terrible rejection when we play on a street. We will be surrounded in a moment by lots of cops.
“And as for the Japanese metal scene, as young new bands are increasing now, the scene is more active than old times, I think. But I feel the generational gap between young bands and old bands.” That age-old question (What would your poor mother think?!) that ever metal maniac faces at least once is particularly apt here. “It’s difficult to live in Japan playing in a death metal band. So every member (except Ryo) has to work. I have my wife and Ryo has his family. I don’t know about other member’s home situation, but at my home, I mostly don’t talk with my wife about Coffins. She isn’t interested in metal music. It’s sad situation,” he chuckles ruefully, before also spilling the beans on other ways annoys his spouse. “I have other projects, every member has one. Satoshi [new drummer] and I started a heavy junk band called Oozepus, like old Swans and Fall Of Because/old Godflesh. We are going to do the recording for the first demo next month. Korreda [bass] has a chaotic power violence band called Trikorona that he was playing in before joining Coffins. Also Ryo has a sludgecore band called Guevnna, plus, he started a booking agency named Road To Hell. Portal will do their first Japan tour by this invitation in November.”
That work ethic is almost frightening. Throw in a tour-happy few years, and Coffins must be one foot in the grave by now. Right? Well, not quite… “In this year we’ll attack Europe again. Fuck yeah, we want to do a US tour soon too!! Hopefully we could do it 2014. Also we just finished the recording works for a new split release. Yes, we love split work!”
Originally in Iron Fist #6
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