PICK OF THE WEEK: Cobalt’s back from the ashes, devastate like never before on ‘Slow Forever’

CobaltThere are bands that really need no introduction and whose reputations precede them. Whether that’s for good or bad. Cobalt is kind of a mix of the two. They are well known for delivering emotional, savage, raw opuses, which they’ve managed to do for the past decade. Yet for the past two years, a darker pall came over the band for entirely different reasons.

Cobalt have two amazing documents to their resume, that being their 2007 sophomore effort “Eater of Birds” and 2009’s Hemingway- and Hunter S. Thompson-inspired “Gin,” my absolute favorite album of that year. In fact, it’s an album that’s had utmost importance to me ever since it arrived, and it is one of those stranded-on-a-desert-island choices for music I’d demand to have with me. The band even briefly toured, hitting up 2013’s Maryland Deathfest for an unforgettable set, and taking a short jaunt after that. Yet, trouble was brewing underneath. It was announced vocalist Phil McSorley would drop out of the band, leaving multi-instrumentalist Erik Wunder on his own. Then he was back, and new material was in the works. Then, in the winter of 2014, McSorley went on a senseless, hate-filled tirade making him a pariah or hero in the metal world, depending on where you stand, and some time later, Wunder told the world he could not work with McSorley anymore, and once again, he was gone from the fold.

Cobalt coverThat move, quite obviously, was a good one. But it did pose the question of who would take over on vocals. For all of McSorley’s problems and ridiculous behavior online, he was the perfect mouthpiece for Cobalt. His hatred and rage were apparent and tangible in the band’s music, and it wasn’t like he was some kind of interchangeable part. It was going to take someone with just as dark and deranged an outlook to match Wunder’s musical intensity, and it turns out that man is former Lord Mantis member Charlie Fell. It’s not like Fell was without his scars, though he’s taken time to explain the matters publicly, but his demeanor and approach seemed perfect to send Cobalt into its new era. And with the arrival of “Slow Forever,” the long-awaited new double-album, it’s abundantly clear he was the right choice. He adds a different level of danger to the band, a vulnerability, and an unhinged humanity. He shrieks and rages, though when it’s time to pull back, he does capably. As for Wunder, well, his prowess has been well known, and he crafts some amazing, captivating, genre-smashing songs here that breathe fresh new life into this unstoppable machine that is Cobalt.

“Hunt the Buffalo” opens the record with an Americana-style buzz, stretching and kicking up dust until the track opens in earnest. Fell’s vocals join the fray for the first time, sounding maniacal and on edge, yet at the same time methodical. “I am not a man, I am just a dog,” Fell howls as the track delivers equal parts savagery and poetic torment, all disappearing all of a sudden. “Animal Law” provides a quick breather right away, and all-acoustic instrumental track that’s hypnotic and barrels into “Ruiner” that punches and bruises right away. The vocals are furious, while the music changes tempos at will, sometimes simmering at mid-tempo, blowing down the doors in other spots. Wunder keeps adding new elements musically, the guitars slurring, feedback warming over, while Fell is a beast, mostly shrieking with terrifying strength. As the song winds down, melodies bubble up, sounding like a passage that followed Cobalt from their back catalog, and a relentless barrage of pounding ends the track. “Beast Whip” is a total killer, the first song they allowed the public to hear, and it’s for good reason. It has an opening that reminds of the “Eater of Birds” title cut, with a merciless build that pushes the blood into your head. Fell is in full command. ramping up the violence as the song makes it way through, and with each twist of sweltering riffs, sped-up tempos, and path changes, the vicious message remains sturdy and breathing down your neck. The rhythmic spine of the song remains solid, while they get in a few more good stops before the track gasps its last. “King Rust” also has a dusty start, as a long, calculated build takes place before it rips the fuck open. The vocals smear soot everywhere, with Fell repeating, “Hoisting myself out of myself,” as the guitars cut across, and later the song bursts anew. “Can I resist?” Fell wonders aloud, as the guitars charge up and scorch, with Fell realizing, “I resist.” “Breathe” is another short instrumental that has a folk/country feel to it and later lifts a fog over everything.

“Cold Breaker” unleashes a burly bassline, with the song striking hard, crunching and overwhelming, as Fell takes his horrific shots. The song hits an interesting groove, letting you feel the filth, and the vocals actually get more monstrous than before. The music matches the anxiety of the howls, and melodic bursts provide the first hint of anything remotely approachable by the uneducated. “Elephant Graveyard” takes some time to really set its hooks. Steely guitars and heavy stomps accompany Fell, as he chokes, “Giant fingers applying the pressure.” The track speeds up and gets nasty, with vocals patterns repeating to dizzy, and the tempo chugging along. The back end of the track lights the fires again before everything sizzles out. “Final Will” also has a heavy bass stampede out front, with the song obliterating the senses, and vicious growls laying in the bruises. Later on, a militaristic drum line sets up, feeling like it’s warning of an oncoming storm, and then the violence bursts anew and takes the track to the ending fires. “Iconoclast” revisits Hemingway, with clips from his Nobel Prize speech laced into the instrumental piece. As the song glows in its embers, Hemingway’s line, “He will endure or be forgotten, a line he addressed to all writers but can apply to any creator, plays on loop. The title track follows, feeling like classic Cobalt musically as its gets on its way, with an ominous cloud hanging overhead, and Fell howling, “Skin to skeleton,” over and over again.There are bursts of speed, unquestionable mystery, and finally a thick fog of sound that drags the track, and seemingly the album, to its resting place. That’s when hidden track “Siege” arrives in a storm of static, crushing guitars, and desperate howls from Fell, giving the record a finish that feels like planets colliding.

Drama and upheaval be damned, there is no stopping Cobalt. Wunder is at the top of his game once again, stretching beyond black metal and letting some dustier influences bleed into the work. Fell is the right voice at the right time, and “Slow Forever” is a triumphant return that re-establishes this band as one of the most important and forceful in all of metal. There are bands that operate outside the spectrum of everything else that’s going on, and Cobalt is one of them. They’ve established their own world that’s far too dangerous for anyone else to inhabit.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/COBALT-109020659128531

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.com/slowforever/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/