In the midst of the metal community collectively blowing their loads (or shaking their heads) over the new Mastodon, Isis, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Candlemass releases, it's understandable some albums may fly under the radar. Gin from avant-garde black metallers Cobalt is one of these releases, and if you have any interest in the nastier and more creative side of metal you should do yourself a favor and cop this disc at your first opportunity.
Beginning inauspiciously enough, the title track to the album could be the intro to any number of radio rock songs... if it weren't for the underlying current of doom that you can feel. This subterranean serpent soon makes its presence felt as “Gin” launches into a tom-tom beat and messy, sloppy distorted guitars take the stage. Cobalt doesn't quite have your full attention, at least until the blastbeats and black metal wails come front and center, and now the snake is staring you dead on, venom dripping from its fangs, orange light reflected off the sodium streetlamps to your back. Mutated, tattered jangle-pop chords put through a blender like a corpsepaint laden Origo-era Burst lazily flop around, leaving sick slime behind them as McSorely belts out some heartfelt and truly pained screeching. Cobalt flips the script again and throws in the velvety 1990's slide groove hardcore riffs ala Helmet. The attack does not let up, intensifying with faster strumming and double bass, until the mournful “Dry Body” comes to break it all up, the vocals coming from the walls of a deserted cathedral with haunting tribal verses echoing and destructive, buzzsaw choruses that sound like a dark, alternate-universe version of Tool.
This is just the beginning of the album. The rest of the album lies in wait for the listener. It's going to lull you into security with the quiet and dark parts, gently running razor wire over your neck, and then proceed to decapitate you just when you think you can relax. While their closest progressive kin Wolves in the Throne Room and Nachtmystium favor a bit of ambience and psychedelia, respectively, Cobalt instead goes for the grit. Wolves in the Throne Room might take you through some dark, foggy forest at midnight with a full moon, Cobalt has you drug behind a truck on a dirt road at midnight. The feel of Gin is uniquely American through and through, and as a result the theatrics and mysticism found in a lot of black metal is absent. The concept behind Gin are the bands literary heroes, Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway. The spirit of the two authors is found in Gin, but it's the moreso their influence on the band from the get-go than any sort of attempt to throw the two legends into an audio form like Mastodon did with Moby Dick on Leviathan.
Elements of Neur-Isis-styled crescendo buildups, Tool-esque chug, the abrasive dark magic of black metal, crustcore, hardcore, and even modern rock are dashed about a sonic field and the listener is shot through this field, bouncing from style to style like a pinball. It's never jarring, although it can be sudden. Cobalt has managed to find a way to make their album pummeling, emotionally charged, genre-straddling, and protean all while placing their menacing patchwork on the same corroded fabric throughout the album. Even the closer, “Stew Craven/...”, which is nothing more than a slave chant and hammering, sounds appropriate.
This album is not perfect. There are some small sections where it feels like Wunder lets the beats kind of go. I get he was probably aiming for it, but they tend to break up the tempo of the songs. The 3 minute “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and the 2 minute “Throat” could've probably either been cut down to 30 second intervals or just simply absorbed into some other songs. Both of them start out promising enough, especially the awesomely moody Blue Oyster Cult-ish “Throat”, but they tend to overstay their welcome.
One of the more interesting things about Cobalt is vocalist Sergeant Phil McSorely serving overseas in the Persian Gulf for the U.S. Army. While a lot of black metal frontmen contend they know about suffering, tragedy, war, and the ungodliness that can come from humanity, McSorely is one of them that I believe. He's a cav scout, one of the guys who goes out from the wire and sees the kind of action that send a lot of men into the loony bin. Being in the service myself, I salute McSorely, and the authenticity of his words is almost palpable to me. This guy means every fucking word, no hollow symbolism or clichéd stock Hollywood run-off. This is the real deal. This is war metal.
Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]