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Cobalt - "Slow Forever" (CD)

Cobalt - "Slow Forever" CD cover image

"Slow Forever" track listing:

Disc 1
1. Hunt the Buffalo (8:48)
2. Animal Law (2:07)
3. Ruiner (6:32)
4. Beast Whip (9:13)
5. King Rust (11:14)
6. Breath (2:25)
7. Cold Breaker (6:44)

Disc 2
1. Elephant Graveyard (7:51)
2. Final Will (11:16)
3. Iconoclast (2:30)
4. Slow Forever (9:35)
5. Siege (5:38)

Reviewed by on April 24, 2016

"Was “Slow Forever” worth waiting a full 7 years for? Every year and then some."

I was nervous about the new Cobalt album after Phil McSorley was fired for his homophobic outbursts. While he was a walking PR disaster who needed to be sacked, I was worried that whoever replaced him would somehow be a step down. Thankfully former Lord Mantis frontman Charlie Fell is more than up to the task. While I had plenty of justifiable apprehension going in, the end product completely blew me away beyond what I was expecting.

While I really liked McSorley's often desperate-sounding vocals, his lyrics often fell short for me. They'd occasionally approach greatness but then turn towards the embarrassing within the same song. Fell on the other hand sounds more confident and professional, but less tortured (which may be a shock to fans of Cobalt's earlier work) and his lyrics finally fit the lofty topics that bandmate Erik Wunder wishes to explore, succeeding greatly with only a single real flop. The “burn baby, burn” line in “Cold Breaker” is too evocative of disco to take seriously as black metal, but otherwise Fell proves to be a much better lyricist than McSorley ever was.

“Slow Forever” is conceptually designed around the relationship between humanity and the animal kingdom, particularly regression into lower animal forms, failed romance and self-loathing and Wunder's continuing fascination with Ernest Hemmingway, carried over from 2009's “Gin.” Cobalt's themes are infinitely more original than the well-worn blasphemous themes of other black metal acts and significantly more intellectual. Even without McSorley, Cobalt is by far one of the most under-appreciated black metal acts in existence simply based on a willingness to explore unconventional lyrical themes. It's Fell's expressions of vulnerability through his lyrics with lines like “I am not a man, I am just a dog” that are completely alien to the aloof posturing that's so common in the genre and make “Slow Forever” an absolute black metal classic.

As for atmosphere, which is important to any black metal release, the production is cleaner and less suffocating than “Eater of Birds” and “Gin” but still retains a dry quality to it. The music brings me out to the old west frontier into a world of cowboys and herds of free roaming bison in the same way that Rotting Christ takes me to the sites of ancient Greek battles, Primordial returns me to pre-British conquest Ireland, and many of the Scandinavian bands evoke images of frozen, windswept fjords.

The strong country-western influence here guides Wunder's guitar playing and the rhythms of his drumming. Not the modern country that's influenced Five Finger Death Punch and Hellyeah, but the old pre-1970s western artists who shaped the image of the American cowboy every bit as much as the actual 1800s frontiersmen across the Rocky Mountains of Colorado that Wunder calls home. This uniquely American sonic imagery crossed with the hypnotic quality that defines the best of black metal has finally crafted a sound for USBM to call its own, no longer be forced to live in the shadow of European artists.

All of this, mixed with hardcore riffs and actually progressive songwriting that frequently goes in interesting and unexpected directions, alongside acoustic passages creates a genuinely unique experience that qualifies as the best metal album of 2016 so far. Not only is Cobalt the only band able to successfully mix country-western music with metal, but there are enough unique ideas here to continue to make Cobalt a force to be reckoned with even without McSorley. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that "Slow Forever" is better than any of the McSorley material that I still hold in high regard.

Was “Slow Forever” worth waiting a full 7 years for? Every year and then some. When even the acoustic interludes stick with you long after listening, you know you have a near perfect album.

Highs: Still the only band to successfully blend metal and country elements together in ways that Five Finger Death Punch and Hellyeah never could, Erik Wunder's songwriting, Charlie Fell's lyrics, strong sense of atmosphere that perfectly captures the old west.

Lows: “Burn baby, burn” in the lyrics, production feels too dry, clean and open.

Bottom line: This is the definitive American black metal album.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)