Review Summary: The miasma of pure death.
Coffinworm are one of those bands that never fail to deliver exactly what is expected of them. Even hearing the name of the band guarantees that you know what will hit you as soon as you press the play button. 'Coffin' and 'worm' are two words that bring connotations of darkness, morbidity and filth; three words that perfectly describe 'IV.I.XIII'.
The band paved their way into the metal world with the release of 'When All Became None', putting forward a blackened brand of sludge metal with hints of death metal. So how does 'IV.I.XIII' hold up to that album?
It's worth noting that the death metal elements only subtly ingrained into 'When All Became None' have been expanded with 'IV.I.XIII'. Although Coffinworm are known as a blackened sludge band, sludge elements within this album are no where near as pertinent as the death metal nuances akin to that of bands like Maveth and Antedviludian. Tremolo-picked riffs are scattered throughout the album, such as in the beginning of 'A Death Sentence Called Life', and serve as a real highlight. These riffs, accompanied by the occasional use of blastbeats, help to break out of the slower paced, doom-influenced sections of the album. This is not to suggest that sludge is completely missing on this album. The song 'Black Tears' has a very Neurosis-esque vibe towards the end, and the filthy, muddy production definitely conforms to sludge tendencies.
Not only this, but the guitars are produced in a very thick, grimy tone, similar to that of Lord Mantis. The production on this record is perfect for the nihilistic vibe of the album as a whole. Reverb is heavily applied to the guitars at times to convey a sinister atmosphere, as if the band are playing in the deepest chasms of hell; a rather fitting location to play, given that vocalist Dave Berkowitz sounds like Satan himself. Often alternating between low-pitched, guttural grunts and high-pitched, throat-shredding shrieks, Berkowitz' range is phenomenal, and his performance on 'IV.I.VIII' cements his place as one of the finest vocalists in the underground metal scene today.
However, if there's one thing that could be said about this record, it's that it's strength is also it's Achilles heel. While the focus on creating a sinister, foreboding atmosphere is ultimately rewarding, there are a few times here and there where the record feels like it's plodding along sluggishly, and there seems to be a lack of a clear focus and direction at times. For example, the song 'Instant Death Syndrome' feels a lot longer than its five minute run time, using a variety of mid-tempo riffs that feel like they're molding into each other without any direction. Admittedly it is somewhat clear to see why the band are doing this - to create a hypnotic, evil atmosphere - but there are not enough lively moments (like the ones found at the intro of 'Sympathectomy') to break free of these doom-laden confines and give the album any variation.
Having said that, 'IV.I.VIII' is definitely an improvement upon 'When All Became None', and is the result of a band realising their sound and making the necessary changes to create this rather natural progression from the aforementioned album. If you like your metal dirty, morbid and totally gloomy (as well as varied in its influences), then Coffinworm have dished up a record which will be of utmost interest to you. The only question is, where do this Indiana five-piece go from here?