Cobalt is a name that carries significant weight in the world of underground and extreme metal. Releasing arguably one of the best extreme metal works of the last decade with a pinnacle of moody and genre-blending black metal with 2009’s Gin. They gained a certain notoriety since then with the public outing of vocalist and founding member Phil McSorley for unacceptable remarks on social media and also for the very public split between Phil and remaining member, Erik Wundar. Fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when Wundar announced not only that he would be carrying on with Cobalt, but also that he was already in studio with the addition of ex-Lord Mantis and current Abigail Williams vocalist, Charlie Fell. The wait is over, the day has come, and time and trials have only made Cobalt that much stronger.
2009’s Gin is heralded by some as one of the best black metal albums of all time, while others took it as a betrayal of the all that is tr00 in black metal. Gin truly was a fantastic record, shockingly layered with haunting depth. It was lauded even upon initial release as an instant classic across the board. Gin took the blackened fury of previous releases and took time to flesh out the emotion behind the horrific screams and music. The most noticeable differences came to light in the intros, outros, and transitions. In those places, they let the fury stop and alluded to the heart and soul behind the grotesque mask of Cobalt. While that rock’n’roll soul was there, it was buried deep between blast beats, tremolo-picking, and blackened shrieking vocals.
Enough about Gin. If you don’t know Gin, then immediately go remedy that. Go listen to it (at least 10 times), then come back, finish reading this review, and go buy/listen to Slow Forever. It was easy to wonder if there would be another Cobalt record after the split with Phil McSorley. Furthermore, I am certain that many may have been unsure as to whether or not there SHOULD be another Cobalt record without Phil McSorley. Combine that with the fact that the name of Cobalt has been run through the mud in much the same way that Charlie Fell’s name was (both inside of Lord Mantis and out). To say that there were a lot of questions surrounding this release would be an understatement.
Slow Forever is one of the most anticipated releases of 2016 and not even solely due to the expectations placed on Erik for a new Cobalt album. After the success and widespread acclaim of Gin, it would have been easy for Erik to freeze Cobalt in place and essentially record Gin: Part 2. There was much speculation on whether he would continue the new path he started on Gin or turn back for the safer bet of recreating previous sounds on older albums. I can tell you that Slow Forever is almost a complete rebirth of Cobalt. Phil McSorley slowed it down and allowed the music to really speak for itself. He took the slight changes on Gin and fleshed them out and evolved them to the point where early fans of Cobalt probably would not even recognize the Cobalt of today. I honestly could not really identify any real influence from black metal in the music. The songwriting is textured and soulful with a strong rock-oriented sound. There are surprising yet delicious moments of blues and full-on thrash in places. A lot of elements in the music remind me of the heavier “rock-out” sections of early Tool songs, both in song- structure, slightly prog-influenced riffs and drum patterns, and, most noticeably, the drum sound. I could see Cobalt touring in support of this record and just as easily opening for Tool and Metallica in the 90s as I could see them opening for Darkthrone or Behemoth. Erik Wunder must have been supremely confident with the new direction as he has brought forth over 84 minutes of music that showcases this new sound. Never once in those 84+ minutes does it sound forced or stale.
The other aspect of Slow Forever that caused fans to worry and haters to hate absolutely blew my expectations out of the water. The vocals. Good God. Charlie Fell delivers. I had no doubt in my mind. Every project I have heard that he has lent his vocal abilities to he consistently just completely kills it. I admit that I was saddened that he and Lord Mantis split, but that split seems to have rekindled a fire in Charlie that is steadily roaring. He contributed vocals to last year’s Abigail Williams record, drums for Negative Mantra, and is hopefully still working on his new project Missing with Jef Whitehead and members of Batillus, Abigail Williams, and Wolvhammer. Charlie’s vocals on this record have a similar feel to them as on his previous releases, but they sound stronger and more passionate. He shouts, sneers, howls and squeals Slow Forever into a spot in my personal regular rotation.
For fans of Cobalt’s old material and of Charlie Fell’s other projects, Slow Forever may not be what you are looking for. Many people were worried about a Cobalt record without Phil McSorely. I personally know people (myself included) that were worried that we never again would hear the iconic vocals of Charlie Fell after the split with Lord Mantis. I know people that were unsure about how his vocals would impact a new Cobalt record. I am here to tell you, that together, Erik Wunder and Charlie Fell may have put out Cobalt’s best record yet, and I, for one, will be spinning this record for a very long time.
– Josh Thieler