In the right context at the right volume, heavy music can be as encompassing and therapeutic as a weighted blanket (picture a safe pummeling and squeezing of the muscles and mind and eardrums). One of the best places to experience that in Portland is the High Water Mark Lounge, a dark bar and venue with an all-vegan menu, a regular rotation of metal and experimental artists stopping by the performance space, and a sound system capable of withstanding the sonic assault of those musicians.
This past Sunday, it was Coffin Apartment who put the club’s PA system to the test. The trio was returning home to Portland after a quick run of shows in Seattle and Tacoma and was celebrating the release of Tomb Building Exercise, their new cassette that rattles the cages where noise rock and metal loudly rut.
After strong sets by local noise musician MoonBladder and visiting brutalists Private Prisons, Coffin Apartment took a good long while to get themselves situated on the stage. But once everything was locked in, they didn’t let up for more than 45 seconds, letting Johnny Brook’s processed guitar noise fill the space between songs rather than banter or drink in any applause.
Hearing the music felt like standing on unsteady ground as it shifted and slid between styles and volumes with little warning. Drummer and vocalist Justin Straw was crucial on that front. He played in the mode of Rush’s Neil Peart, never letting one groove or beat stay in one place for very long. Watching him keep up that level of complexity while simultaneously maintaining a pummeling downstroke on his kit and screeching into a microphone, it felt like he’d reached galaxy brain levels. The seismic churn of his bandmates and gravity seem to be the only things keeping Straw from achieving literal liftoff.