How does one sit down and write a followup album when your discography includes not only Eater of Birds but Gin? The former regarded as “2007’s landmark album” and the latter acclaimed as “a pillar in American extreme metal.” Colorado’s Cobalt put themselves in that very position, and I suspect the process saw them battered and bruised in places they never thought possible. Seven years after the release of Gin, Erik Wunder has disentangled himself from personal struggle and in the process given Cobalt another shot at greatness. Phil McSorley has moved on to Recluse, and now we have Charlie Fell (ex-Lord Mantis) on vocals. Is there trouble in the Cobalt camp? My heart says with Wunder still in the driver’s seat, Slow Forever STILL has all the fixings to be one of the most anticipated and well regarded albums of 2016. My head, on the other hand, says a new frontman, lengthy delay in the creation process and more problems than a math book signals trouble.
“Hunt the Buffalo” makes a strong introduction. The twang of outlaw country hits you like a gunslingers bullet – dead on! The twangy guitar work uncurls like a rattlesnake – it’s a tune that commits to memory pretty quickly, building and developing the bite that Cobalt delivered on their past endeavors. Vocal interplay also holds up consistently with what Cobalt did on Gin and Eater of Birds, but in addition Slow Forever can also be likened to Fell’s work with Lord Mantis (Pervertor being a prime example). It’s a great marriage of two interesting and very dark projects and fans of both bands will be happy with the inclusion of Fell in the Cobalt fold. “Hunt” changes direction at a moments notice, giving into the extremes of minimalism, followed by wall of sound attacks of hard sludge and black metal. It’s confusing and complex and you’re left with no doubt as to the technical skill and talent of Wunder.
It’s worth mentioning that Slow Forever is actually a double disk-set, packed with 12 tracks, and a total run-time of around 85 minutes. That’s a whole lot of Cobalt! Moving along, the album peaks in a few places. There’s the jarring switch-over into “Ruiner” where Wunder’s slick bass riff gives you a window into his sly and mischievousness side before it’s pushed aside by some of his more glib guitar-work. The high-point of the song though comes from Fell’s surprisingly dramatic vocalizations, reminding me briefly of Ex-Deo‘s Maurizio Iacono. “Breath,” despite being non-essential, continues to impress me. It makes for a beautiful steel-string sounding transition, tinged with dispirit, gently introducing the brashness of “Cold Breaker” – a big-sounding track and a strong ending to disk 1. At times despite the harshness of Fell’s scream, you’re able to pick out the lyrics, leading me to believe this could easily have ended up a depressing addition to Shining‘s (Swedish) repertoire.
Disk 2’s “Elephant Graveyard” shakes up any lethargy that creeps over you. The tune takes on a life of its own one moment spewing out black ‘n roll and in the next creeping, black sludge before before bouncing back to frolicking black ‘n roll madness. “Iconoclast,” though not crucial musically to the album, gives you a much needed peak into Wunder’s struggles through the penetrating writings of Ernest Hemingway’s Banquet Speech. In essence you’re given a glimpse into the torment of writing, loneliness and how easy it is to be forgotten. “Slow Forever” is the last of the high points. A throaty chant tempts you inward contrasting the punk-like delivery Fell’s known for, while the drums and guitars jointly weave in Tool-ism tinged melodies that dart between harsh and melodic.
I ended up enamored with only around half of what Cobalt offers on Slow Forever. The rest of the tracks repeat themselves excessively and largely just go on for too long. It feels like Cobalt got caught up in the emotion of their journey. They had a lot to say after their respite and instead of editing their “masterpieces” down, they poured their hearts out and left it at that. The tracks suffer serious bloating, and the albums when combined, are over-packed. Slow Forever has some good ideas, but for the most part it’s a prime example of too much of a good thing just being too much to swallow (the sun).