It’s been seven years since the release of seminal American extreme metal two-piece Cobalt‘s last album, and that time off certainly hasn’t been without turmoil for remaining member Erik Wunder, who had to give the boot to his vocalist Phil McSorley, or current vocalist Charlie Fell (who was axed from his own band Lord Mantis). If one fishes, they can certainly find all the tabloid information they want. But for this writer, the most intriguing question becomes, how will the music stand up in spite of the drama and enormous expectations? In what can only be described as an invitation to put your cowboy hat on and draw your pistol, Slow Forever’s first track “Hunt the Buffalo” begins with a riff taken straight out of your typical Wild West ye olde saloon. Although incorporating folk sounds is nothing new to Cobalt, it seems clear all-instrumentalist Erik Wunder has allowed extra influence from his dark folk/rock side-project Man’s Gin to seep into this track and others on this nearly hour and a half behemoth.
Despite typically receiving the black metal label, Cobalt has never been a one trick pony stylistically. That is especially true on Slow Forever, which sees the band expand out more than on any previous record. Second track “Ruiner” showcases the band’s ability to blend genres without much in the way of effort. Within a two-and-a-half-minute span you’re taken from a pummeling, angry, driving thrash riff back to the aforementioned western-folk ambience and into a section that could have been cut right out of a track from the last two Alice in Chains records. A slow, crawling Tool-esque riff permeates throughout the beginning of the title track, eventually giving way to something closer to black metal as new vox man Fell unleashes his frenetic screams.
Those expecting to hear the same Charlie Fell they had become accustomed to from his previous projects shouldn’t hold their breath. His delivery is quite a shift from his Lord Mantis days, namely in that it doesn’t possess the overt, disconcerting grossness you hear on records like Pervertor or Deathmask. He brings a bit more nuance and variety to the fold, often altering between manic yells reminiscent of hardcore to more traditional black metal screeching. The change comes as a bit of a surprise considering Fell’s past coupled with previous singer Phil McSorley’s lack of vocal variety.
I’ll admit, through the first three to four spins of this record, I wasn’t quite “getting it.” The music didn’t capture me like on Gin;the manic parts weren’t as obscenely ferocious or visceral as on Eater of Birds. And the running time is nearly an hour and a half. But because this is Cobalt, a band which has been so seminal to my music listening experience, I wanted to give Slow Forever the opportunity to finally click. It did. I won’t go so far as to say this record is their best album, as many other blog writers have claimed, because it still needs time to shape itself within the framework of my oddly obsessive Cobalt-complex. Slow Forever probably won’t hit you as hard as previous releases, but perhaps for someone just joining the hype train in 2016, this is the perfect introduction to the band’s still unquestionably unique approach to heavy music, which can be further expounded upon by delving deeper into their discography. And for any Slow Forever naysayers, be patient. It might click for you too.