In trying to find explanations for how so many things in our world are unique and yet able to be categorized by our minds – such as, for instance, how two chairs could share practically no traits in common and yet still both be recognized as chairs – Plato created a theory of the Forms. The Forms, which exist for things both material and conceptual (for example, there is a Form of chair, and a Form of red, and a Form of justice) reflect and refract themselves into our world from beyond it, and all things are merely shadows of their Forms. The Forms themselves, to put it simply, are the absolute ideal versions of things. If you’ve ever heard someone call something the “Platonic Ideal” of anything, this is what they’re saying: something is so accurate a version of what it is, that it might as well be its ideal and its Form.
I bring this up because I don’t think it would be unfair to call California’s Extremity the Platonic Ideal of classic death metal. Coffin Birth is not my favorite death metal record of the year – that spot would go to either Mutilation Rites‘ or Of Feather & Bone‘s new albums – but this debut LP from Extremity just perfectly encapsulates everything good about the classic death metal sound. Nothing here is going to sound new at all to listeners with any sort of experience with the genre, but it’s all executed with such aplomb and confidence, plus standout production values and truly excellent vocal work, that Coffin Birth can get by while completely shirking any novelty factor. It’s a record by death metal fans, for death metal fans, and pretending it’s anything more or less is pointless.
This isn’t to say that Extremity doesn’t have a few tricks up their collective sleeve, though. (And what a collective sleeve it is – the pedigree on this band is incredible. Shelby Lermo of Apocryphon and Ulthar, Aesop Dekker of Agalloch, Vhol, and Khorada, and Marissa Martinez of Cretin and formerly Repulsion make up Extremity.) More than most other bands in the genre, Extremity feels comfortable playing around with shifts in tempo. Although clearly their most comfortable when delivering strong mid-tempo riffs or layering trem-picked melodies over blast beats, there are plenty of times where the trio knows that energy is better spent in an Autopsy-esque, doomy lurch, or venturing into Bolt Thrower territory and delivering a salvo of quick, muscular grooves. If death metal has an Achilles’ heel as a genre, it’s absolutely that bands can get far too set into playing at a singular tempo, and hearing a band that knows exactly how and when to change it up for maximum songwriting potential is a joy.
There’s also an amazing ear for melody somewhere in this group: the lead guitar lines, when they appear, are some of the best that metal has offered in recent memory. It’s an odd day when a death metal record is catchy, but that’s certainly the case here, which is especially impressive given that it never comes at the expense of Coffin Birth being as heavy and brutal as the best of them. These are classic death metal melodies, too, but done so lovingly and with such reverence for the source material that it never once feels inorganic or unoriginal.
When compared to its peers on paper, Coffin Birth doesn’t seem as though it stacks up to this year’s bumper crop of death metal; something seems lost in its insistence on sticking to the genre’s established script. Upon actually listening, though, it becomes clear that originality just isn’t what this band is aiming for. Coffin Birth fits in perfectly among death metal’s classics with its sound, and the writing is on par with the best, so why mess with what works? Extremity may not do anything particularly new, but what they do, they do so damn well that it’s impossible not to enjoy what they have to offer. Blast this shit loud and enjoy.
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Coffin Birth is out now courtesy of 20 Buck Spin records. You can find the album and merchandise right there on their bandcamp page, and it’s on streaming platforms as well.