Man’s Gin – “Inspiration” (Stereogum Premiere)

Erik Wunder is probably best known as the instrumental genius behind Colorado-born black-metal duo Cobalt, whose now-decade-old career has produced three increasingly brilliant LPs that redefined the parameters and raised the stakes of the genre: 2005’s War Metal, 2007’s Eater Of Birds, and 2009’s Gin. (Gin placed at No. 2 on Stereogum’s list of 2009’s best metal albums, and I had it at No. 3 on my Pazz & Jop ballot that year.) Yet the Cobalt story frequently centers on vocalist/lyricist Phil McSorley, whose military service and tours in Iraq and South Korea make him an unusually important voice in a genre that often treats subjects like war with cartoonish bravado and inaccuracy. It also makes him a compelling interview subject even for the likes of Fox News, but more importantly, it makes things like rehearsing, writing, and recording new music particularly difficult. As such, Cobalt releases are few and far between, and tours are nearly impossible [1]. Perhaps to satisfy his creative muse, Wunder has focused his energy recently on Man’s Gin — a long-running project for which he serves as singer and songwriter, and which captures much of Cobalt’s blackened spirit, but manifests it in rustic tones: bleak Americana; haunted folk; boozy jams; grunge anthems; murder ballads. Wunder’s full-bodied vocals recall Alice in Chains’ late singer, Layne Staley, another man whose pipes were capable of turning the darkest of nightmares into lighter-waving sing-alongs for winos and disaffected dirtbags.

In spring 2009, Wunder relocated to Brooklyn (although he is, curiously, never mentioned in any coverage of the borough’s thriving metal scene), and in 2010, Man’s Gin released their acclaimed debut, Smiling Dogs (on Profound Lore, also home to Cobalt). Now, they’re set to release their sophomore effort, Rebellion Hymns, which is in every way wilder, sadder, stranger, rowdier, and darker than the debut. Man’s Gin is frequently compared to Swans, which makes sense: Wunder has been a member of Jarboe’s band for years. You can also hear plenty of Tom Waits and Nick Cave in there. And listening to Rebellion Hymns, I noticed a lot of similarities to former Silkworm guitarist Joel R.L. Phelps’s work with the Downer Trio (whose albums demand to be rediscovered today and recognized as forgotten gems. Somebody get on that). We’ve got the opening track (and my favorite) from Rebellion Hymns to stream here, and it’s great, especially in the second half when Wunder shreds his voice to ribbons as the band bangs on. Listen.

Rebellion Hymns is out 5/28 via Profound Lore.

[1] Earlier this year, McSorley was returned to the States, stationed in Georgia, and with that development, plans came together quickly for Cobalt to do a short tour — their first-ever official live performances. Wunder recruited Man’s Gin/Jarboe bandmate Josh Lozano to play guitar, and Michael Dimmit from Mutilation Rites to play bass. McSorley will sing, of course, and Wunder will play drums. (“There’s no way I would teach someone the drum parts,” Wunder told me. “The drums on the Cobalt records are very emotive and move in a very specific way.”) After the tour, the band will begin work on the fourth Cobalt LP, appropriately working-titled Slow Forever. Cobalt tour dates here:

05/23 – Baltimore, MD @ Maryland Deathfest
05/27 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Smiling Moose
05/28 – Harrisonburg, VA @ The Blue Nile
05/29 – Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
05/30 – Philadelphia, PA @ Mill Creek Tavern
05/31 – Brooklyn, NY @ St. Vitus
06/01 – Brooklyn, NY @ St. Vitus
06/02 – Boston, MA @ Cambridge Elk Lodge

Tags: Cobalt, Man's Gin