Album Of The Week: Cobalt Slow Forever
You know that feeling where you’re absolutely pissed off and you’re enjoying it way too much? It’s a toxic feeling, all that roiling wrath turning into its own sort of euphoria. Your own righteousness and indignation make you feel heroic and indestructible. It’s that road-rage feeling, that I-refuse-to-lose-this-argument-with-my-significant-other feeling. It’s not a feeling that generally leads to good things happening in the world; I imagine it’s the biggest part of what’s been powering these Donald Trump rallies lately. But it’s a universal feeling, one we all know too well. And Slow Forever, the new album from the Colorado metal duo Cobalt, evokes that feeling — that pulsating eyes-bulging breath-quickening rage-high, that riding-a-wave-of-bile adrenaline rush — better than any album I’ve heard in I don’t know how long. It’s an overpowering hurricane of fury, a joyous howl from the darkest parts of the soul.
Cobalt have given me that feeling before. The band released their debut album in 2005, but their crowning moment, up until now, came with their 2009 album Gin, a bleak blast if ever there was one. I remember buying Gin on iTunes because it did really well in the year-end list from Decibel, the great metal magazine, and then blasting it on tinny iPod earbuds when I was trying to get my Christmas shopping done that year. And somehow, Gin turned the putrid process of, say, buying my wife a sweater in a sale-choked Manhattan J. Crew into something fun, though only in the darkest way imaginable. I stalked through those aisles with a grim sort of determination, death-staring everyone around me, marinating happily in how much I hated everything I was doing. And it worked. She liked the sweater. Gin got me through it.
But the Cobalt of right now is a different beast from the Cobalt that made Gin. Back then, singer Phil McSorley recorded his parts for the band whenever he was home from serving Army tours in Iraq. The band almost never played live because he was Army first and metal second. But about five years after Gin came out, he went on what I’ve seen described as a misogynistic and homophobic Facebook rant, and his bandmate Erik Wunder kicked him out. Charlie Fell, an acid-fried backwoods type, replaced McSorley, and the band’s whole sonic identity changed. Fell is, if anything, even more intense a presence than McSorley, and his unhinged demon-howl has more force and intention behind it. Meanwhile, the music has become grander, vaster, more expansive, less beholden to any sense of metal orthodoxy.
Not that metal orthodoxy was ever really a problem with Cobalt. As an underground metal outsider, a problem I have with the genre is the way it’s striated itself into all these minute, interrelated subtribes and sub-subgenres. Bands form, decide that they’re sci-fi-themed technical death-metal bands, and then make sure their sounds conform with the whole sci-fi-themed technical death-metal format (if that actually exists and if I didn’t just make it up). Cobalt have, by and large, been outside all that. They do identify as metal; their first album was called War Metal — itself a metal microgenre, but not one to which Cobalt ever belonged. But there was a baseline there, and that baseline was black metal. The sounds on Gin veered in a few different directions, but they always came back to black metal. Slow Forever doesn’t do that. It doesn’t do anything like that.
Instead, Slow Forever pulls from wherever it needs to pull to make its attack more vicious, more punishing. There are slow, gurgling blues intros that mostly serve as contrast; when the hammer finally drops, the songs sound way more intense. There’s a fluttery acoustic folk interlude called “Breathe” that serves the same purpose: You get a minute to compose yourself before the onslaught returns. There’s one entire track that has no vocals other than those of Ernest Hemingway; it samples his Nobel Prize acceptance speech about how great writers lose their greatness when they become social animals. (Hemingway is a longtime fixation for Cobalt; they used a photo of him as the cover of Gin.) The band almost never plays fast; instead, it’s a slow and precise grind, and when the riffs switch up, you feel it. But this isn’t stoner-metal. There’s no guitar-fizz blunting the impact here; instead, it’s all artillery-level precision.
Even though Cobalt are a metal band, even though they come from metal, at least half the album sounds more to me like floorpunching ’90s hardcore than it does like metal. Of course, there’s plenty of history of crossover. Hardcore bands have flirted with metal: Cro-Mags, Earth Crisis. And metal bands have flirted with hardcore: Pantera, Black Breath. Metalcore is an entire thriving, mostly-terrible subgenre. With those bands, though, you get the sense that they were knowingly combining genres to see what they could do. I don’t think Cobalt are trying to make hardcore. Instead, I think they’re trying to make the most hard-hitting music they can, and sometimes it comes out sounding like hardcore. I don’t hear anything calculated in it.
In fact, the album really only reminds me of two bands, and it doesn’t sound anything like either of those bands. New Orleans hardcore sludge-monsters Eyehategod have spent decades living on some weird blurry edge between punk and metal, but like Cobalt, they’ve never really come at their music from either angle. Instead, these are gnarly, angry, nasty motherfuckers just making ugly, hate-filled music. And that’s Cobalt, too. It’s music that radiates anger thoughtlessly, in every direction, and there’s real power to that, especially when it’s done this forcefully. And then there’s Swans, who, especially in their most recent form, have been making these vast symphonies of death that seem too grand and heavy to exist within any preestablished genre boundaries. That’s Cobalt, too. Slow Forever sprawls over more than the length of one CD, and some of its songs push well beyond the 10-minute mark. More importantly, though, Cobalt have the same level of grandeur that Swans do. They commit entirely to the deeper, darker things that their music can evoke. They hold nothing back.
It’s hard for me to even talk about how Slow Forever works because it’s way vaster and meaner and more monolithic than almost any album I’ve heard in recent years. It’s not an album that does things. It simply is. If you listen to it in the right frame of mind, it creates this whole visceral hell-world inside your head, and you can just go fold in on yourself and live there. You probably shouldn’t, at least not for long periods. But you can.
Slow Forever is out 3/25 via Profound Lore. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• The Range’s warm, joyous, open-ended dance odyssey Potential.
• Bob Mould’s punchy, hooky, reliably badass Patch The Sky.
• Young Thug’s hopefully-nuts Slime Season 3 mixtape.
• Margo Price’s intense old-school country debut Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.
• Former One Direction member Zayn’s solo debut Mind Of Mine.
• White Denim’s riffy Southern rocker Stiff.
• The Sun Days’ expansive guitar-popper Album.
• Father’s nihilistic Atlanta rap zone-out I’m A Piece Of Shit.
• Domo Genesis’ sunny, stoned rap LP Genesis.
• The Thermals’ surging, hooky We Disappear.
• Like Rats’ old-school moshcore ripper II.
• RJD2’s thoughtful thumper Dame Fortune.
• Former Archers Of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann’s self-titled solo album.
• Littler’s dusty, romantic indie rocker Of Wandering.
• Open Mike Eagle and Paul White’s sharp, referential rap collab Hella Personal Music Festival.
• Lontalius’ prettily gloomy I’ll Forget 17.
• The Joy Formidable’s charged-up rocker Hitch.
• Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fevers melodic lo-fi rocker Talk Tight.
• Night Moves’ reverb-heavy ’80s flashback Pennied Days.
• Novelty Daughter’s hypnotic, fevered pop debut Semigoddess.
• The Body and Full Of Hell’s seething experimental metal collab One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache.
• Snow Roller’s urgent emo blast What’s The Score.
• Museyroom’s acoustic psych-pop debut Pearly Whites.
• Horrified’s synth-heavy death metaller Of Despair.
• Wormed’s brutal death metaller Krighsu.
• Night Idea’s intricate progger Breathing Cold.
• Glenn Davis’ Lost World EP.
• Arthur Moon’s Our Head EP.
• James Bishop’s Bad Dream EP.
• Howard’s Please Recycle EP.