The first full-length album from COUTOUX (pronounced “KOO – too”) comes to us care of KILL ALL MUSIC, a self-described “anti-label,” which is fitting because to nail down exactly what COUTOUX should be labeled as would be akin to correctly identifying the true origins of some mutated abomination as it sludges its way through the irradiated wastelands in a post-apocalyptic Earth. You may very well call it industrial metal, due to its at times heavy hitting and seemingly unrelenting assault, but at other times it does relent a bit and eases quite quickly into an unnerving sound of atmospheric electronic doom metal by way of experimental dark synth. Perhaps we need to step back a bit and look at the prior analogy to some Godforsaken hellspawn and how it moves about because, in such a way, COUTOUX feels like it’s own beast which can only be described as “sludge synth.”
It’s dirty. Each track sticks to your eardrums like demonic wax. It’s all around unholy. You feel like your soul needs a shower after listening to this album. It’s not that it’s overly harsh as much as it’s just simply unsettling. A Hell on Earth is therefore a fitting title in this overall sense as, thanks to its darkly synthetic industrial metal atmosphere, it’s akin in nature to the soundtrack for the video game DooM II, and it’s similar subtitle, of which it could have replaced it easily. You are both the hunter and the hunted when listening to this music and, if the ideal conditions were to be met, you would do well to keep looking over your shoulder as you listen with headphones on in the dark. It truly is the “perfect music for your apocalyptic bunker party” as KILL ALL MUSIC touts it to be.
Of course, as with any party, you have to make sure that there’s something for everyone to enjoy and, much like how the album as a whole is an amalgamated mutant of genres and subgenres, each song is sure to delight and terrify a different guest in their own separately unique way; even those seeking a relatively relaxed sound. For example, throughout the tracklisting you’ll come across three songs (“Force,” “No Return,” and “Hell”) which share a commonly titled thread in that they’re labeled as being an “(Interlude).” Think of them as but a brief reprieve between more harsher tracks, even though they themselves are enough to slowly fill you with dread as they drip with the sounds of despair not unlike those heard within the dungeon synth genre. Another genre in the mix? Yes, this album is full of surprises and constantly keeps you guessing on what you’re going to hear next.
What about those more harsher tracks, you ask? Oh they’re there, don’t you worry, and there’s plenty of ’em too with some even having vocals to boot. “Empire of the Dead” lets loose those guttural moans from the underworld, as does “The Sacred Burial” albeit with much more tortured screams, and “Destruction of Evil” lets ’em rip while “A Hell on Earth” tears what’s left to shreds. They’re not claws on the chalkboard either, rather the sort of hellishly sweet nothings that a succubus whispers into your ear before going in for the kill once your guard is down. This is to say that they’re not overbearing or taking center stage within the tracks themselves, rather they’re treated more like an additional instrument that accompanies the rest of the music in turn, almost being like background noise at times and yet they still slay together in perfect harmony all at the same time.
Now you may claim it cliche for such a dark act to put out an album on Friday the 13th, in October of all months, but COUTOUX is unapologetic by design. They do their own thing while at the same time embracing that darkness within so many genres and subgenres. You can try to bag ’em and tag ’em, as this review has certainly tried to do a few times, but in the end they refuse to be tied down and categorized. So, instead of wasting your time in trying to do just that, said time would be better served just listening to the music itself and simply enjoying the experience from start to finish as it’s quite the unforgettable journey as a whole. Think of yourself as the titular character from Dante’s Inferno as you do, descending deeper as you go after pressing the play button, for each track brings with it a horrifically different auditory experience than the last like each new circle of hell.
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A Hell on Earth from COUTOUX is available digitally through KILL ALL MUSIC‘s Bandcamp.