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The bleak catharsis of Coffinworm

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Coffinworm singer Dave Britts at Dude Fest 2011. - PHOTO BY KRIS ARNOLD.

It's a gorgeous and comfortable evening, but Carl Byers and Dave Britts, guitarist and vocalist respectively of local metal band Coffinworm, aren't feeling uplifted by the rare nice weather.

Over a haze of Bell's Two Hearted Ale at J. Clyde's Pub, they commiserate about the failing health of a close friend. It's that kind of thing that helps explain why Coffinworm's sound is so incredibly blackened and nihilistic.

"Everything's fucked," Britts says matter-of-factly. "I believe that to my core. But I'm still trying to laugh. Coffinworm is a band of dichotomies. We play bleak music, but ultimately songs of hope and resistance."

Indeed, Britts and Byers project a well-honed sense of humor and camaraderie that can only come from years of friendship. Their friendship shouldn't come as a surprise, they say. Just because you're blasting a dark and deranged sound with disturbing topics doesn't mean that's how you always are. For Coffinworm and other bands like them, their music is an outlet for all of life's frustrations.

"If you don't let that shit out or embrace it in some small amount, you're doing yourself a disservice by ignoring a portion of your psyche that's going to fuck you up later," Byers says. "Most people want to just smile and act like everything's fine. It's not."

Coffinworm's aesthetic may not appeal to a wide audience, but they aren't looking to exclude anyone. Britts says his lyrics can relate to any person, no matter his or her background, who's downtrodden and trying to do better for themselves.

"Those are the people we scream for," says Britts, notable for having dreadlocks clear down to his waist. "Our songs are resistance for those that life has forgotten, that people have given up on. They're everywhere – people that life says 'fuck you' to. Why not say 'fuck you' right back?"

That's what Coffinworm effectively did on their full-length debut, last year's When All Became None, released by Profound Lore Records. It had an immediate impact thanks to a colossal mix of swarming guitars, hellhammer drums and demon-from-the-deep vocals. It garnered praise from national and international metal bibles like Decibel and Terrorizer Magazine.

Some of the credit belongs to producer Sanford Parker. Byers knew the Chicago-based metal producer through mutual acquaintances and thought he'd know exactly how to handle their sound. They weren't mistaken.

"He helped elevate our collective [game]," Britts says. "It was cake. We've all recorded I don't know how many albums, but it was never like that. He had the ear and equipment and we had the jams."

Surprisingly Parker doesn't use analog recording gear. You'd think he does, given the fathomless depths from which the songs on When All Became None emanate and the eerie echo of Britts' tortured screams.

"He was born in the analog age but exists in the digital age," Britts says. "He's bridged that gap."

Byers notes that Parker had them leave his Semaphore Studios while he was mixing the album. Only when he hit on the perfect combination did he bring them back.

"I was not expecting it to sound that big," says Byers, who has a lumberjack beard. "I figured it would be more like just some dudes playing jams in a room."

Both agree it was easily the best recording experience they've ever had. And they've had many. Every member of Coffinworm (including guitarist Garrett O'Sha, bassist Todd Manning and drummer Josh Schrontz) has been in and around the Indianapolis music scene for years now.

"We're all fans of each other," Britts says. "That's a real mark of friends – can you support what your other homies are doing."

Coffinworm drummer Josh Schrontz at Dude Fest. - PHOTO BY KRIS ARNOLD.

Coffinworm started playing together in late 2007. Their first show came the following year, as support for New York band Unearthly Trance at the Melody Inn, on a bill that also included local hardrockin' schzoids Racebannon. Byers befriended the Relapse Records trio after interviewing one of them for a webzine he used to compose. Coffinworm wasn't necessarily ready at the time, but they couldn't pass up the opportunity either.

"We sounded like dog shit, but we jumped at the chance to play with that band," Britts says. "As any young hustler would hopefully fuckin' do. Would you play your first show with a bunch of bullshit bands, or play with one of the best bands ever?"

Coffinworm was supposed to release a split 7-inch with Unearthly Trance for the Ireland record label Hell Comes Home. It's part of a subscription club 7-inch series that includes 12 discs, a T-shirt, digital download codes for every song and a special box to put everything in. But Unearthly Trance recently decided to disband after surviving the devastating earthquake that struck Japan while on tour there with the Melvins.

"They've kind of been plagued from their inception," says Byers, noting they were also in New Zealand when that country was hit by an earthquake, as well as being in New York when 9/11 happened. "I really wish they would've continued, but if I would've been through a traumatic experience like that, I could probably see myself wanting to step away for a while."

Instead Coffinworm will do the 7-inch with the Akron band Fistula, whom they're good friends with. The song they recorded for the project has some decidedly faster parts than what comprises most of When All Became None. Byers played drums on the debut. Schrontz's technique is noticeably different.

"He can do a lot more shit that I can't," Byers says. "I usually tried to hold it down more like a 4-4 punk-rock number because that's all I've ever really been able to do. The new stuff has more of a death-metal bent to it."

Perhaps that's more appropriate for the life-rejecting bile that Coffinworm spews.

"It's the opening of a portal, the raw catharsis that comes from us projecting our hate toward the crowd, and them projecting it back on us," Britts says. "We swallow it up and just shit it right back on them."

Hear: "Start Saving For Your Funeral" from When All Became None (via Profound Lore)
Hear: a mixtape curated by Coffinworm for CVLT Nation

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