Sweet Cobra have long bucked trends. They’ve done things exactly as they’ve wanted to do things, releasing albums at their own pace and with varying levels of heaviness. And on their new fourth album, Earth, they’ve done what everyone fears—gone soft. The 12 tracks, most around four minutes long, don’t hit as hard as before and inspire more dancing than they do head-bashing. But, don’t fret, for it’s not all bad. Sweet Cobra are a band that has the confidence and drive to do exactly what they want and make it work.
On their early albums, Praise and Forever, Sweet Cobra sounds heavier—more like early Coliseum, a band that shares a similar career arc. Their 2012 masterpiece, Mercy, is likely to remain the band’s apex. Combining the rawer, heavier elements of their early material with a bit of touch for popular songwriting, Sweet Cobra produced an album that had music lovers across the spectrum excited. It’s closer to Queens of the Stone Age than it is to Sweet Cobra.
Now, the band is no longer a four-piece. Tragically, guitarist Mat Arluck lost his ongoing battle with cancer just following the recording sessions for Mercy. And for many reasons, Sweet Cobra is no longer, and never will be, the same band without him. Replacing Mat would have been impossible, so Sweet Cobra moved forward as a trio. Earth was produced by Matt Talbot (Hum) and Kurt Ballou (Converge), both of whom play on the album. Thus, Earth is, as expected, a much different experience than prior Sweet Cobra albums.
The album is, in some ways, an expected change for the band. They’ve dropped all signs of heaviness and punk and hardcore influences, leaning instead towards a more grunge-oriented approach that would have been at home in the late 1990s. They’ve also done away with the more repetitive, shout-oriented style of Mercy, keeping the songs on Earth shorter and more straightforward. (Although, with titles like “Jealous of Drugs” it’s hard to take them seriously.)
The bass guitar also features more prominently than in the past. They use it cleverly on “Complaints” to open the track before the dissonant, keyboard-laced pop, reminiscent of Reggie & the Full Effect, comes to bare. The following track, “Flight Risk” is a sparse one, playing on an almost Fugazi-like influence. Both tracks reveal the band’s new approach—dissonance has replaced heaviness. Small touches in songwriting, along with their trademark cursing, keep Sweet Cobra alive as a heavy band, but Earth is essentially an indie rock album with grunge leanings.
All in all, Earth is a fine record—well produced and mixed with quality musicianship. But it doesn’t feel like a Sweet Cobra album, and it certainly doesn’t hit like the kind of sludgy, metal album that was to be expected. For those that enjoy watching bands that they love turn pop—or enjoyed Coliseum’s Anxiety’s Kiss—Earth might be a welcome change. Even as Sweet Cobra embarks on this new chapter of their career, they’ll need some fine-tuning of this new sound before they produce an album entirely their own.