Extremity recently released their debut LP this past July 20th. The release is slow, crushing, and successfully rivals the year’s strong death metal competition. While the instrumentation found is quite exceptional, its lyrical themes also have a lot to offer for those willing to sit down and bring out the surgeon’s scalpel.
Man, 20 Buck Spin just won’t stop. The year is only half full (or half empty, you pessimist) and everyone’s favourite record label could call 2018 quits by now and take a well-deserved break. The Pennsylvania-based label has been around for just over a decade-or-so, but they have recently greatly picked up in popularity within the underground. While years of hard work can’t be denied, their newfound following has been cultivated through their ability to churn out quality metal release after release. Tomb Mold, Torture Rack, Khemmis, and Superstition have all seen phenomenal outputs this year; and those are only the bands I follow.
Oakland’s death metal trio can now also be added to the list with their newest release Coffin Birth. The above background’s purpose serves to offer a sense of context for what Extremity has stacked up against them within the world of music. If you keep up with my past reviews of my other 20 Buck Spin favourites, you’ll know that both Tomb Mold’s Manor of Infinite Forms and Torture Rack’s Malefic Humiliation are two of my favourite 2018 releases thus far. Upon reading my review below for the record in question, remember the success of their contemporaries.
As mentioned above, Extremity is an Oakland-based death metal group who’s style caters towards the golden age of the subgenre, when the term “death metal” hadn’t even been coined yet, and its members were simply pushing the limits of distortion-based guitar music in their basements and garages. While there is a hint of modernity within the technicality of its displayed lyrics, Coffin Birth is an exemplary show of slow and brooding music built around a discernable beat. Check out this ominous sonic atmosphere below.
While the genre has been pushed to incredible limits and its various pioneers have exhausted nearly every segment of the spectrum, its very easy to get caught up within the fastest, grimiest, and most abrasive material you can find. Come on, you’re a metalhead. You aren’t listening to the devil’s music for the catchy choruses. While grindcore, noise, and some black/death on the more chaotic side of the equation have their place within our world, Extremity takes us back to that ominous riff played over a simple drum beat which we all know and love. This coagulated blood and soul of the music is found throughout the record, within the beginning of “A Million Witches”, the underbelly of “Where Evil Dwells”, and the ending of “Grave Mistake”. Yes, I cited the first three songs of the record when discussing an overarching quality, but that just speaks to how many shining moments there are on here; you don’t have to look far.
On a lyrical note, the album further offers some sustenance to those of the analytical variety. While the musical flavour of the release goes back to a time when all death metal lyricists had to do was look through a doctor’s book of diseases and symptoms and flip to a random page, the themes on Coffin Birth portray societal issues through a mirage of fantasy and witchcraft; this release really has something for everybody. While on the surface the vocalists sing about maniacal witches cursing life forms within the womb, those who want to look past the fantasy can interpret some very not-light topics regarding abortion, misguided parenthood, and the power associated with our innate ability to create life. Some of these lyrics are even indiscernible to me when trying to grasp their grander meaning, which either means that the members of Extremity are crazy, or the intellectual forethought behind some of the album’s themes are out of my reach; I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Furthermore, the record’s overall composition is absolutely exquisite in every shape and form. From the actual track breakdown, to the riff-to-riff dissection, everything is equal and balanced on Coffin Birth. While album intro segments have been taking some heat from critics as of recent, Coffin Birth’s contribution to the trend flies under the radar and, in my opinion, actually contributes to the album’s success further than just upon first listen. Titled as “Coffin Birth / A Million Witches”, the introduction track is seamlessly split in two, with the first half consisting of an ominous instrumental opening. Such is not only a cheesy sample or another bland acoustic intro, but it is actually a composition. The track starts with a very Halloween-esque keyboard segment played in unison with an organ, which then turns into a proper song with drum and guitar additions. The track puts you right in the required mood for listening to a death metal album as such, which is really all an intro track is supposed to do. To add to this, the segment in question is matched by an equal member, represented fittingly as “Coffin Death” (although the track is called “Misbegotten / Coffin Death”) to close the record. In similar fashion to its brother, the outro track eases the listener down from the barrage that falls prior in respectable fashion.
I’ve discussed this within prior articles and I’ll mention it again as this quality is such a hit or miss aspect of music in general; the spectrum of heaviness and “easy listening”, or whatever you want to call it, has to be balanced so that the skull fracturing moments of your music hit the hardest. If your whole content is one long guttural scream coupled with a gut-wrenching blast beat, your music isn’t going to feel all that gut-wrenching after the first fifteen seconds. A balanced and even distribution is absolutely key for any musical release, but this is especially true for metal music. People should point to Coffin Birth for an excellent demonstration of the quality discussed above.
With that being said, the multi-faceted vocal attack and the subsequent musical composition are both used in tandem efficiently and effectively. Extremity’s schtick lies behind their untraditional vocal approach, in the sense that the group has two vocalists singing with different styles, at different times. However, there are a few sections of music where both vocalists Marissa Martinez-Hoadley and Shelby Lermo vocally erupt in unison, which are moments to be cherished and anticipated, as they hit so hard. This is exactly what I was trying to get at within the discussion above. This quality is especially prominent when these vocal portions are highlighted by expertly-crafted compositions. All of the songs on Coffin Birth flow so well, with each musical section bleeding into the other exceptionally. You really are taken on a ride, and when both Marissa and Shelby occupy a microphone, you better have your seatbelt on.
In short, I cannot expand more upon the praise found above. Extremity’s Coffin Birth is a diverse, telling, and looming release that is exceptionally-balanced in terms of composition. While not necessarily moving the subgenre forward, Extremity is doing their own thing to critical acclaim. Pick up the record via 20 Buck Spin if you are at all a death metal enthusiast; this release is thus far within my year’s top 5.