Review Summary: Black metal misanthropia made tangible and genuine.
Black metal troupes are some of the most nihilistic, misanthropic ***s you can find. Often recording in utter solitude (does anyone remember those Norwegian troll bands that recorded their records in a forest), spouting lyrics that either glorify satan or seem to be anti-everything, they are the basement/bedroom nerds spouting their stores of angst at the world in a more than grisly fashion. Cobalt, too, is a two-man project; but their misanthropy seems to be more justified. Vocalist/lyricist Phil McSorley is a military member, stationed in Iraq (for the ignorant, that country where a lot of war has been going on the past years). Along with his mate Eric, who plays every other instrument on this album, they've teamed up to release a few more than angry studio records; and their latest release, Gin, proves that the tank of emotion derived from McSorley's horrific experiences in war is not empty yet by far.
Now, this isn't the type of tr00 kvlt black metal you might expect. These guys don't sound completely lo-fi, and they musically have more in common with Keep of Kalessin or Mirrorthrone than with Burzum or Xasthur. In fact, a lot of the influences here seem to not come from black metal at all. Second track Dry Body features a lot of noodling reminiscent of sludge greats Neurosis, who seem to be an influence that crops up more as the album progresses. There are Tool-ish drum patterns all over the record. Two-Thumbed Fist features riffs that come straight out of the harsher substyles of punk. And ex-Swans luminary Jarboe drops in for a few minutes, delivering her signature vocals on the decidedly viciously titled "Pregnant Insect."
Instrumentally that all seems to lead up to a somewhat coherent whole. Even though many bands that have multiple influences tend to devote sections to do either (like Opeth's continuous switches of volume and tempo), Cobalt try to hybridize their material into songs. As a track like Dry Body progresses, its post-metal groove clunking forward, it doesn't eschew the more traditional black metal-isms at the end, as a terrifying crescendo takes hold of the song. Arsonry mixes the speed of punk and the aggression of black metal with a maelstrom of blistering riffs, pounding drums and black metal croaks of "Burn me down / shoot me in the chest."
What is most pulling down this record is that when it is not engaging in utter speed or esoteric fiddling, it seems to be bogged down to creating useless ambience: the closing track is just a lot of chanting and fighting bull***, which is ultimately a useless addition to the album (in the same way that Tool needs to stop writing songs like Viginti Tres). The Old Man Who Lied His Entire Life has a brilliant title, but it serves no purpose other than disruption of the tempo and maybe, catching your breath between the churning mayhem that encompasses the rest of the disc. Unlike some of the bands that came before them, they don't yet have the concept of how to use slow sections to their advantage yet; the breaks seem to be haphazardly constructed and often disrupt the flow of the record.
But even then, most of the time, the anger and misanthropia of the record does seem to penetrate mightly viciously into the listener's skull. When this band steps it up a notch, the pure blistering force breaks holes into the listener. They seem to have found a brilliant compromise between groove and speed, knowing when to dive into powerful, belligerent riffs to crack skulls and when to dazzle you with sudden furious bursts of speed. There is no relent to this record, except those occasional moments awkwardly shipped in to let you breathe. And the best of all, it comes with a great guitar tone and production; unlike most BM, everything is properly mixed and audible and the guitars crashing seem to have some amazing force behind them, which adds to the pressure that this record tries to exert.
Cobalt may not have been the first black metal band to execute what can almost only be termed musical nihilism, but they take it a bit further and they take it into other directions. By the virtue of their lyricist, this tornado of emotion and violence seems just a tad more genuine and a bit more powerful than what is normally out there, and this album goes on to stand as one of the better records released in the first quarter of this year. Its content may not be for everyone, but for the one that broods on a bit of darkness and mayhem this part of the year, their soundtrack has just been delivered. And for black metal to sound genuine instead of silly is a huge achievement already as it is.