Sludge is like the classic board game of metal subgenres: easy to learn, but hard to master. Its formal and aesthetic simplicity make it a breeze to get into for new listeners and only slightly more challenging for musicians to perform, but its limited vocabulary and relative popularity ensure that it produces more redundant dreck than virtually any other metal subgenre — which is saying something. As a result, the line between “this band rules” and “I have heard this exact riff played by other bands 10,000,000 times / I never want to see the word ‘weed’ in a band name again” can be exceedingly thin in this realm.
It is thus extra impressive that Cough fall so clearly and obviously on the “this rules” side of the line. This slow-burning Richmond unit has ties to the better-known Windhand in the form of shared bassist Parker Chandler, but I’d take Cough any day if I had to pick between ‘em. Still They Pray, Cough’s upcoming third LP and first full-length release since 2010, makes a strong case for them as the best straight-ahead stoner sludge band in the game today. True, they’re basically executing Electric Wizard’s playbook: long, digressive songs built on huge amps; resinated and resonant power chords sketching out bluesy riffs; textural solos and slow fades. (Electric Wizard main man Jus Osborn produced the album, fittingly.) But Cough summon a sense of pained melancholy that recalls other meanings of “execution.” David Cisco’s tortured vocals give Cough an emotive edge that many bands in this vein lack; his miserable howling on “Dead Among The Roses” reminds that psychedelic experiences often comes with a dark side. Listen.
Still They Pray will be out on 6/3 via Relapse.