If you look back at the discography of Japanese death-doom legends Coffins, you’ll see that split singles and other small releases are the band’s bread and butter. They’ve only put out four full-length albums since they started releasing music in 2000, meaning that up to this point, a lot of their output has been scattered, hard to find or vinyl-only. The new compilation, Perpetual Penance, is meant to correct that problem, bringing together tracks from splits with bands like Stormcrow, Hooded Menace, Noothgrush and Warhammer, live tracks and more into a two-disc set. And this is no throwaway B-sides collection; Perpetual Permanence is an exploration of all the sides of Coffin’s sound, and an essential collection for any of their fans.
In the course of a single song, Coffins can go from punk-ish thrash to lurching doom, all while maintaining some signifiers of death metal with guttural vocals and freaked out solos. One of my favorite tracks, the extended version of “Grotesque Messiah” (originally from a split with Macabra), gradually slows down in tempo from its bass-heavy and breathless beginning, to a repetitive three-note riff that almost swings, ending with a second lumbering, fuzzed-out doom riff. Because Perpetual Penance is made up of one-off recordings, a lot of its songs are self-contained explorations, packing a ton of ideas into four-, five-, or six-minute runtimes and ending in completely different places than where they began.
With a run time of 96 minutes, Perpetual Penance is best absorbed in parts; otherwise, you might feel like you’re drowning in death/doom. What’s more, the songs on the compilation were not written or edited to flow like an album—and thus, they don’t. But the nice thing about a collection like this is feeling like you’ve discovered a new song each separate time you make your way through. I’ve been playing “The Wretched Path,” which switches often between a rollicking stoner metal sound and a slower, start-stop section that keeps the song from going totally off the rails. “In Bloody Sewage” has a wonderfully crackly and noisy guitar sound that reminds me of a broken radio.
Perpetual Penance shows off a ton of variety and versatility from Coffins. Listening to it, one might even going so far as to argue that the band is essentially a singles band, working well when they can contextualize their sound against that of other bands. Either way, a solid survey of some of the less-frequently-turned corners of their discography.