Cobalt - Slow Forever - (9/10)
Published on March 27, 2016
It would be hard to talk about the new Cobalt album, Slow Forever, without mentioning the tumultuous events that led to this record. However, the stories are widely known at this time but in brief: Vocalist Phil McSorley left the band, rejoined to work on the fourth album, and then was booted by other member Erik Wunder after a series of fairly infamous online rants. Around the same time, bass player and vocalist Charlie Fell (along with Ken Sorceron) left Lord Mantis in an also pretty public and nasty way. The universe though teamed up Fell and Wunder to work on and create what would become the new Cobalt record. Coming seven years after the release of the masterpiece, Gin, the new era of Cobalt is not without a few changes (other than the vocals) but the new duo has still managed to create a beast of a release. Slow Forever brings Cobalt back to the metal forefront after a very long absence in such a fantastic manner than it would be hard to deny the power of this new incarnation.
With having such a long time off between records, it can be understandable that there could be a few sonic changes within any band. Erik Wunder has put forth some if his most versatile music in his career on Slow Forever, and the care shines though for sure despite maybe making the listener do a double take to make sure this is the same band. Sure, the guitar tone is right at home next to Gin or Eater of Birds, but there is a distinct lack of the black metal intensity that permeated those albums (and the debut War Metal for that matter). While the album still has plenty of intensity, there is more variation and an overall more progressive sound on this new release. Elements of Tool, and Neurosis can be heard, and even a few nods here and there to some more punk or crust influenced playing. There is no shortage of amazing riffs though, some of which manage to take up multiple minutes of time, but get stuck in your head in the best way. The drumming may be void of blast beats, but the double bass and downright groove and technicality still on display speaks for itself. The final track, “Siege” for instance combines some of the best of what Slow Forever offers musically, with the wall of guitars creating a noisy and almost drone like quality, while the drums pound away and become utterly entrancing. There are of course a few softer interludes as well, which harken back to some of the sounds on Eater of Birds, and for that matter Erik’s Americana side project Man’s Gin. However, Erik has managed to create this new era of Cobalt as a perfect hybrid of old, and pushing to the new.
While the band has added in a few influences to the musical side of things, the most talked about change is of course the addition of Fell on vocals. Where as McSorely was a major part of Cobalt’s sound in the past, Charlie has done a great job as replacement. His vocals are slightly more varied than Phil, but he does not lack any intensity. Charlie has been known for many things musically, but his vocals have always been deemed some of the more depraved in extreme music. His performance here is no different, as his howls and shrieks showcase the dark lyrics in a way only he could do. Those familiar with his work in Lord Mantis know his ability to utilize various ranges in his voice with such grit and dirt makes the vitriol tangible. He does not let up for his performance here, which is quite impressive given the long run time. While there is still a difference in sound and approach from Charlie and Phil, Fell feels as the best possible person to take over these duties and possibly push the band further. The interplay with the vocals and the music is no less impressive here than prior Cobalt works, and possibly more so due too the variation and extra influences Erik brings to the table.
Cobalt was destined to be a different band when they released new material. Even if events had not unfolded they way they did, Erik’s work outside of the metal scene, and Phil’s Recluse project or even his love for old raw black metal in general would be more or less bound to change the Cobalt sound in some way after seven years. Once Charlie took over, we all knew there was no denying a change was going to happen. Never-the-less, change is of course not always bad and Slow Forever is perfect example of that. It may be hard to get over the utter perfection of a record like Gin, and create something that stands on that level, but this new era of Cobalt has certainly come as close as possible if not equalling that prior effort. Slow Forever stands on its own, in the sense that it shows a new form of a band that already had a pretty impressive resume and did not let the drama get in the way of making something that stands as some of the best either man have done. It may take a few listens to get past the initial changes of course, but the time spent is well worth it. Obviously as we look back seven (or more) years we can see the impact the prior embodiment of the band had, while it remains to be seen how the new duo will last. Regardless of that though, with material like this it is hard to imagine there would be any less praise being shown. Maybe not wholly “black metal” any more, but it’s still extreme, and its still great.