Monday, 10 April 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 8): Femacoffin "S/t" Ep, 2014

Until today, I had never given much thought about the semantics of the word "femacoffin". And then, as I was meditating about the band's music (as I always do, occasionally to the point of levitating), it struck me: "but what the hell is a femacoffin?". I tried to figure it out by myself, and thought of possible etymological roots for the prefix "fema" but I could not find any satisfying one. So I did what anyone with too much time on his hands would: I looked it up on the internet. The results were a little unsettling, I must say, for most of the sites referring to "fema coffins" appeared to be heavily into conspiracy theories and these are not exactly my cuppa (litotes for you). But there you go, the online world is the new heart of darkness. From what I understood, fema coffins are ugly disposable things made of black plastic that, though they probably are very convenient if you need to find thousands of ready-made coffins, make for a pretty grim sight. Conspiracists believe that fema coffins (FEMA being the acronym for Federal Emergency Management Agency so you know this lot doesn't fuck about), which were supposedly stocked in camps, are to be used for the body disposal of thousands of political dissenters after martial law is declared in the U$ of A. Yes, it does sound like an Atrocious Madness song. I don't know whether Femacoffin believe in the fema coffin theory or not but I reckon that it is a fitting name for a crust band as it conveys the idea of claustrophobia, anonymity and massgraves. Cheery stuff.

I first heard of the band through Terminal Escape, when the demo tape was posted on the blog. I genuinely liked it and proceeded to order it promptly. Like a simpleton, I had not realized that Femacoffin was a post-Stormcrow band and thus my nebulous amazement at the quality of the songs was left unexplained, shrouded in mystery. Before checking out the line-up, at first, I even thought that the singer was female and listening closely to the demo today, judging solely from the vocals, it was not implausible (right?). It did take to see them live in 2014 to be struck by the truth, and even then, they had to play Stormcrow covers for me to be enlightened. What can I say? There are days when I am just not the quickest. But at least, I could originally listen to Femacoffin (which I shall call FC from now on because it is still a ten-letter word) with an open mind and a fresh ear, unaffected and uninfluenced by the intel that they were - OMG - ex-Stormcrow. But once I knew, this made me ponder actually. Does knowing that "band X" has ex-members of "older well-respected band Y" completely condition our reception of "band X"? Does this piece of knowledge send us in a limited direction and a circumscribed appreciation of a given band? But then, not knowing means that you are going to miss important points and be unable to properly contextualize the band diachronically? And who wants that??? Existential questioning, to be sure.

Getting back to FC, their 2013 demo particularly impressed me with the unpredictability of the riffs and the drummer's natural ability to change beats. The band never really picked the obvious solution in terms of songwriting and it felt good to have a band with a real identity. I am not saying they re-invented crust but I love how seamlessly they integrated elements from sludge, death-metal and doom-metal into the music. In general, I am quite orthodox with my crust and I am suspicious with bands borrowing too heavily from other metal genres, not because I dislike the idea - on the contrary, I feel it is important to try things and widen the fields - but because, more often than not, the balance has not been thought through and the result becomes very mechanical or strays too far away from crust for my liking. So I was thoroughly pleased with FC's tape, it was heavy, very much so, but with an organic, cave-like quality, the riffs were rocking and dark without being cheesy, the drumming was top-notch, song-oriented and diverse and the vocals were desperate and coarse but definitely punky. Of course, the Stormcrow comparison is unavoidable since Brian and Tony were both in the band and the latter's riffing style is unmistakably similar to "Enslaved in darkness"'s (Tony has got a very distinct sound and strumming technique), an Lp whose opening song still sends chills down my spine when it kicks in and one that I have just incidentally realized is almost 12 years old... The other guitar player, Nick, used to play in Sanctum but I do not hear any strong resemblance between both bands other than the Bolt Thrower tonalities. 

FC's vibe is close to Stormcrow's early years, both bands share the same punishing heaviness and magmatic tension but I would argue that FC does not rely as much on atmospherics for their songs are not as long and dilated as Stormcrow's (especially in their later incarnations). I also hear something of late 90's Misery (the split with EOM to be specific), not in terms of sound or songwriting, but for their ability to incorporate smoothly discrete metal elements, and bands like Bolt Thrower (I would even say that FC's use of Bolt Thrower-type riffs and guitar tone is exactly right), 13 and Dystopia are - each on different levels and to varying degrees - other highly relevant points of reference. However, I think the other main source of influence in FC's musical approach can be located in a classic Oakland crust band from the 90's: Skaven. I can already hear the head-scratching of people staring in disbelief at their screen, certain that I have positively lost me marbles, but if you consider both bands' music in terms of vibe and tension, and not just as the sum of correlating instruments, the parallel is sensible. There is a similar atmosphere of lucid dementia pervading the music that is conveyed through the pained vocals, the versatility of the strings and the almost tangible slimy thickness born from the relationship between all the instruments - including the vocals. There are also significant differences, as Skaven were a much more inventive, narrative-oriented band, but still, it does situate Femacoffin in a specific crust tradition.   

The first and only Ep from FC was released in May, 2014, on local Brainsand Records. On this recording, the band switched to a three-piece with Nick only playing on the third song, although FC were back to a four-piece when they played live with the addition of Erika on second guitar. The first riff of the energetically mid-paced "Dismal twilight" exemplifies meaningfully and eloquently Tony's ability with the guitar. The riff is catchy but not stereotyped, it has an undeniable chugging, galloping metallic groove and works perfectly in a loop. The vocals are threatening and expressive, with some reverb, while the drumming is adequately pounding without sounding obnoxious. The guitar sound is filthy but aimful and the all-out boltthrowerish part concluding the song tells you that they could do that all day but would rather use it wisely and pointfully. In fact, the last part of the song illustrates the flowing quality of FC's songwriting and how, in just 90 seconds, they effortlessly (well, so to speak, I am well aware that it does take some work to achieve it) go from their mid-tempo dirty crust epics to a heavy and monumental doom-metal part, then to a short suffocating sludgy interlude and finally to the death-metal epilogue I mentioned above. The key here does not lie in the multigeneric nature of the finale, but rather in how the different parts seamlessly transition with one another. The second song, "Trinity", is faster and globally closer to death-metal, possibly a little too much for my taste and I am not completely convinced with the team work between the guitar and the drums (it could be just me). This song blends with a cover of Icons of Filth's "Midnight" which is introduced by creepy noises (a little like on Antisect's "THEY" or "The moor" from Amebix or what SDS did on "Ameber", you know, that kind of ominous atmosphere), notably the death rattle of Kayako from Ju-on which is undoubtedly the most horrific, frightening sound I have ever heard (seriously). This unexpected prologue to an Icons of Filth song somewhat announces the song's change of mood initiated by FC and turns it into a lugubrious danse macabre made possible by the obsessiveness of the original riff, played here with an almost black-metal tone. The righteous anger is still present in the vocals but it now feels like it comes from the underworld. This is a great cover, not overdone or forceful, which is well adapted to the band's sound thanks to this clever sonic mood change. 

The Ep looks really good. The cover, a smug-looking Apocalypse angel playing the harp and dropping bombs, and especially the backcover, with its lovely reworking of a classic Icons of Filth artwork, were drawn by crust artist Stiv (from Visions of War), while the words of the lyrics were written by Dino from Dystopia in that characteristic fashion of his (I love how it looks but you do need to focus in order to read it). Unfortunately, the band stopped playing not long after the Ep's release, a real shame since I would have been very curious to hear a full album from them, with all the possibilities that a longer format entails.   


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