THE COFFINSHAKERS: The Curse Of The Coffinshakers 1996-2016
Release year: 2022
Label: Svart Records
Back when I was a teenager and was starting to seriously get into underground metal, one name I would come across ever so often was The Coffinshakers. Imagine my surprise when I found out they were, of all things, a country band! Now, for younger readers, this may not seem so odd: it’s already a long time since artists such as Hank III and Bob Wayne made country cool again. But back in the late 90’s and early noughties, country was equal to the worst kind of lame old-timer music for squares and normies. The epitome of everything you didn’t want to be as a kid into provocative underground music. But still, throngs of slavering, rabid metalheads were worshipping a country band. OK, with horror-themed lyrics, but still!
I interviewed The Coffinshakers’ frontman Rob Coffinshaker for the rockin’ magazine Big Beat not long ago (in conjunction with the release of this box set I’m reviewing now). Interestingly enough, he recounted similar memories of how people in the underground scenes viewed country back when he started the band – after all, he too came from a punk/metal background!
And still The Coffinshakers became cult favourites.
My first deeper contact with the band was a few years later, in the mid-noughties, when Finnish Psychedelica Records re-released The Coffinshakers’ classic collection Dark Wings Over Finland. But in those days, a few years were a long time, as they are prone to be when you’re young. My long hair was gone, replaced by a psychobilly quiff and my bullet belt had been exchanged for a pair of red suspenders. I’d falled in love with aforementioned Hank III, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and some other country artists. I was ready to accept The Coffinshakers. It’s been a one-sided love story with no end in sight.
The Curse Of The Coffinshakers 2016-2022 compiles together everything the Swedish cult country vampires have released so far, along with some unreleased cuts. This means two albums, a slew of singles, EP’s and compilation tracks spread out over four vinyls or three CD’s; two and a half hours of Transylvanian vampire country straight from the heart of Sweden. Considering the original releases have been out of print for ages, this is not only a good way to complete your The Coffinshakers collection – it’s also the only one, unless you’re willing to spend a pretty penny.
The debut album, We Are The Undead from 1998, offers a pretty raw, even punked up take on country music. The songs are fast, straightforward and quite short. Rob Coffinshaker’s vocals are somewhat snotty and snarly, still lacking the charismatic depth he later developed. There is more rockabilly in the music. Overall, this is a rather nascent form of the band, but certainly not without it’s charm. Tracks such as Pale Man In Black, Black Sunday, Until The End and You Call It Graveyard (I Call It Home) are all bona fide classics.
Released in 2007, the group’s second, self-titled album is them at their peak. The songs have become more nuanced and atmospheric, Rob Coffinshaker’s vocals more dramatic and deep, and the band just sound more confident in their expression. The addition of eerie female background vocals and touches from 60’s pop – in the aforementioned interview, Rob told me the band were heavily into legendary UK producer Joe Meek at the time – give the album more diversity, more depth and more impact. A track such as Last Night Down By The Grave is genuinely one of the best latter-day country murder ballads, and the band’s take on Voodoo Woman (originally performed by, I believe, John Leyton and produced by Meek) is pure perfection.
The singles/rarities collection offers not only the long out-of-print and often rather expensive EP’s, but also some compilation tracks and unreleased stuff. Spanning the entirety of the band’s career of about 25 years, there’s considerable stylistic breadth to these tracks. From the nascent punked-up country to the more mature later expression, this is a somewhat bumpy but entertaining ride. Particularly fun are the two versions of Mark Of The Vampire: one version is arranged as a light-hearted hotel lounge bar shuffle, the other strongly reminds me of the intro jam The Blues Brothers Band played in the Palace Hotel Ballroom in the iconic movie. Lyrics of dark vampirism create a delicious contradiction to the music in either version!
Contentwise, this set is pretty close to perfection. Sure, the early material is sometimes a bit clumsy in its stylings, but despite its awkwardness has an undeniable appeal to it. The second album is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, a milestone in the history of dark, gothic country music. And the collection disc(s): well, as said, a bit of a bumpy ride, but never one to reach any true lows.
Both the vinyl and the CD set are nice enough, although by no means particularly deluxe. The CD is a fold-out digipak with a thick booklet and original album covers under the trays. Serviceable. The vinyl version comes in a carboard sleeve, each vinyl in separate sleeve with the two albums having rather faithfully restored artwork. The main difference is that the covers are matte, not glossy. The vinyl version also contains a booklet in A4 format. My only complaint with the vinyl box is that outer box is designed for five, not four vinyls. Things slip out easily!
All in all, in either format this is a fine way to get everything the seminal Swedish country vampires have released. The price of both versions is – or was, in the case of vinyl, since all editions are currently sold out – very reasonable, which is in line with the packaging being serviceable but not deluxe. Small shortcomings notwithstanding, this is a laudable compilation by the fine folk at Svart Records.
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