To those who didn’t bother to keep track of every bit of minutiae flowing from the Seattle rock scene in the early ’90s, Coffin Break was likely just another face in a long line of indistinguishable faces. Why the band never reached any measure of national prominence is a no-brainer — the trio clung to its hardcore and heavy metal roots too tenaciously to gain widespread acceptance. That the band never even achieved the cult status of the Young Fresh Fellows (a major influence) is also easy to figger: none of Coffin Break’s material displays the underhanded cheekiness the Fellows consistently offered.
Psychosis, a shortplayer of sloppy hardcore, adds just a dash of metal to sour the flavor a bit, but standouts like “Stupid Love Song” also nod directly toward the Fellows, down to bassist/singer Rob Skinner’s pursed-lips imitation of Scott McCaughey’s campy, smart but insecure vocalizations. “Hopeless” tightens Coffin Break’s grip on straightforward punk rock, while the discordant metallic intro to “Promise” sheds a bit of light on things to come.
What was to come was 1990’s Rupture, a record made distinct from its predecessor by a few run-of-the-speed-metal guitar solos and the attempt by singer/guitarist Peter Litwin to expand his vocal range to metallic flourishes better left to Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. (Actually, he comes off sounding more like Ronnie James Dio easing himself back to consciousness after a long nap.) “Vision of Never” and “Rosy Picture” pack some decent punk-rock wallop, but Skinner’s clever “Kill the President” could be the YFFs themselves. The record also features a competent cover of Hüsker Dü’s frightening “Diane.” (One C/Z CD combines Rupture and Psychosis.)
A label switch did Coffin Break some good. The combo benefits from improved studio work, but sharp stylistic divisions are beginning to show. Skinner’s writing and singing are markedly improved on Crawl, and his talent for catchy, hooky pop-punk is beginning to peak. Litwin, on the other hand, continues to seek refuge in the hoariest metal clichés, turning what could be a terrific album (if Skinner held the reins) into a disjointed handful of diamonds and a whole lotta rough. “Wiser” is an unforgettable bit of punky bubblegum pop that shows Skinner has finally been able to catapult past the obvious references and become his own fellow. “For Beth” and “Cry” are also winners, but “Stop” is a shameful piece of anti-censorship tripe.
Having released a number of Coffin Break singles, C/Z put them together on No Sleep ’til the Stardust Motel. As many of the singles were also album tracks, the main novelties here are a sendup of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” (yawn) and a not-bad cover of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out.” Litwin’s material dominates the compilation, but his stuff doesn’t seem so horrible here. In fact, “The Drive,” from Coffin Break’s first demo tape, is fairly captivating, but it’s the rough recording that helps it along.
It was only a matter of time before Coffin Break would get around to a Black Sabbath cover, and that’s what the band does on its final album, Thirteen, for which guitarist Jeff Lorien was added to bolster the combo’s metal punch. The album has the requisite Skinner punky raveups (“Wasted Time,” “Old n’ Jaded”); even Litwin proves willing to take some silly pills and lighten up a bit. “Our World Now” merges his hard-edged metal with a nifty pop sensibility. But the whole thing goes straight to hell at the halfway point, as Litwin heads right back to his trite metal shenanigans. Memo to C/Z and Epitaph: re-release each guy’s compositions on separate discs.