Cobalt - Slow Forever Review

Cobalt - Slow Forever
Cobalt - Slow Forever. Profound Lore Records

In 2013, at Maryland Deathfest XI, Cobalt performed live for one of the few times in their career. Confined inside a makeshift tent where the crowd was so enormous it spread outside to the chilly May air that felt more like October, the group’s intense performance immediately held sway over the hundreds tightly packed in. Being in the midst of that audience, watching Phil McSorley pounce and rage on the stage, was a memorable experience.

Cobalt Background

Gin had come out four years earlier, its lyrical ode to Ernest Hemingway and inventive take on black metal garnering the band much acclaim from metal fans. The status of a new album was not exact at the time of MDF XI, with their other member Erik Wunder keeping busy with his folk/rock project Man’s Gin. It would be a year later when the band seemed to fall apart, with McSorley leaving, returning, and then being kicked out after a contentious Facebook rant.

But Cobalt righted the ship, with Wunder bringing in ex-Lord Mantis singer Charlie Fell. These two collaborated on Slow Forever, a double-disc album that certainly doesn’t hold any material back. When released, Gin was the shining achievement of the band’s career, but now, Slow Forever has the possibility of taking its place.

Overview of Slow Forever

Though it’s split up, at less than 85 minutes it can be consumed all at once. Most will do so anyway—maybe without realizing it’s two discs—if they use any digital format. Though the songs are not tied together directly, there are themes that repeat themselves to bring the songs closer (i.e. a reprise of the acoustic “Breath” is given an electric twist in the outro to “Cold Breaker”).

Since Gin, Wunder has released two albums under the Man’s Gin moniker, and though Cobalt is a radically different group stylistically and tonally, some of the dark folk of Man’s Gin sneaks into Slow Forever. The three instrumentals that act as subdued restraints are the closest spirit successor to Man’s Gin. A few of the longer tracks, like the charming acoustic melodies in the opening minutes to “King Rust” and the whirling guitars in “Hunt the Buffalo,” throw in a Western desert-like saunter.

These shifts away from metal are helpful with songs that can go as long as 11 minutes. The way the track listing is arranged makes it so that there aren’t consecutive songs like this packed against each other. The flow of the album is one of its strongest points, as there isn’t enough downtime to make the hour and a half feel that long. Just when the album is about to succumb to its own weightiness, a respite emerges to offer solace and comfort.

Where no solace can be found on Slow Forever is in Charlie Fell’s immense roar. His work screaming with Lord Mantis translates to Cobalt quite well. Save for melodic chanting in the "Siege" hidden track at the end of disc two, Fell never relents whenever he comes in to spew out bleak, nihilistic themes. Hemingway does make an appearance on "Iconoclast" with a sample of his 1954 Nobel Prize speech, the briefest of ties to the Gin record.

There’s a method to the proper build of anticipation when everything falls into place as if the band meticulously planned to reach that point. Cobalt does that in excellent fashion on each song, but it’s the long game they play on Slow Forever that’s the true achievement. The band is not opposed to going uptempo—even punk for a bit on "Elephant Graveyard"—but it takes until the title track to go full-on black metal. That’s over 75 minutes in, and the long wait for the freedom to be clear of restrictions is the album’s crowning moment.

Even without those few minutes of blackened bliss, Slow Forever yet again puts Cobalt on the forefront of what black metal can be. It took almost seven years to follow up Gin, but Wunder spent it further pushing the band's boundaries into territory not yet heard. Whether it’s better than Gin is up for lively debate, but it’s no debate that it’s at least of equal quality to that opus.

(released March 4, 2016, on Profound Lore Records)