The future looked very dark for Cobalt, following the release of 2009's Gin. Wunder and McSorley seemed to have perfected their recipe for the black metal outfit, following the release of their debut album, War Metal, and especially their sophomore full-length, Eater of Birds. The band seized activities, and time went by. McSorley left the band, re-joined and left again, and things were not looking great. At the meantime Wunder was dwelling in the psychedelic folk rock domain of Man's Gin, and it just felt that a new Cobalt release might not see the light of day. How wrong that thought was? Not only Cobalt returned. Not only Wunder finds an excellent vocalist in Charlie Fell (ex-Lord Mantis, ex-Abigail Williams). Not only do they return with a double album, but they might be coming back with their best work so far in the 84 minutes of Slow Forever.
In the past it was fairly easy to describe what Cobalt where doing. They were, in essence a black metal act, and a great one at that. Their work was dominated by extremity, a ruthless aggression that carried over the years. Sure,Gin felt like a more mature version when compared to War Metal, and there is no question that the band evolved through time, but Slow Forever takes bolder steps. For one, it is a record filled with hooks. Every twist and turn of the album sees amazing riffs, great lead work and catchy patterns. The whole album sees Cobalt moving more towards the basics, making a turn towards what is fundamental in extreme music. Heavy metal and punk injections in Slow Forever craft the members' vision of extreme music, from the classic metal leads of “Ruiner” and its defiant spirit in “Elephant Graveyard,” to the punk-ish “Beast Whip” and the hardcore-esque “Siege.”
What this boils down to is a primal sense, an animalistic quality that comes to the forefront. The energy that this album radiates comes through this approach undertaken by the band, coming down with heavy riffs and a lot of conviction. The patterns that the band follows encourage repetition, making sure that the repetitive beating of tracks such as “King Rust” and “Elephant Graveyard” will get their point across, while the groove shifts in “Cold Breaker” electrify the song structures. And, this is all combined and further enhanced by a combined injection of blues, country and hard rock. The twangy guitars in “Hunt the Buffalo” showcase that aspect of Cobalt, a part that has always been present in the band's music, but had not flourished to such an extent. The shorter tracks also expand on this, with the style of “Breath” pointing towards Man's Gin, while their Hemingway influence is still strong, containing even a sample from the great authors' Nobel Prize speech in “Iconoclast.”
Does all this mean that Cobalt have given up on black metal? Of course not. The hostility of the genre is necessary for the band to channel this animalistic form, with parts of “Ruiner” and “Beast Whip” especially projecting that. More ambient manifestations also rise with the eerie form of the genre in the title track, expanding their sound even further. Even going completely full-blown with “Final Will,” resorting in the absolute misanthropy that only black metal is capable of producing. What helps to an insane extent in all these transitions is Fell's vocals. Capable of going straight black metal cutthroat style when that is necessary, Fell is able to transform through the different parts, from the big, clean-ish vocals to accommodate the hooks to deeper and more obscure manifestations, including whispers to enhance the infernal ambiance or shouty hardcore-like outbreaks in “Siege.”
Slow Forever it is distinctly different from what we had so far experienced from Cobalt. And yet, it is not a surprise that the band came up with an album such as this. An excellent release, maintaining the band's extreme quality, while turning towards a more classic sound, extending its scope. The wolf might change its skin, but not its habits.
8.6 / 10
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