posted on 4/2009 By:
In most cases, rock music—and metal in particular—is all about posturing. Slayer may harangue fans to sacrifice their virgin sisters to the goat-headed lord of all filth, but Tom Araya has two kids, lives on a farm, and goes to church on Sunday. Amon Amarth might be actual Norsemen who drink actual mead, but they still don’t dragon-ship their way to Ireland for actual plunder and rapine very often. Bolt Thrower don’t drive tanks to their desk jobs, Carcass have never performed an autopsy, and so on.
Cobalt, on the other hand, do not posture. When vocalist Phil McSorley talks about playing ‘war metal,’ it’s not because he thinks it sounds cool. The man is a professional killer.
McSorley is an infantryman in the U.S. Army and spends most of his days in Baghdad. He claims to love his job, and the nature of that job makes McSorley a decidedly unsettling figure. Gin’s lyrics center around the works of Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway (whose imposing likeness graces the album’s cover), but McSorley’s contributions are most disquieting when they reflect his daily life. When he repeatedly howls “burn me down/shoot me in the chest” on “Arsonry,” one realizes with a jolt that in his line of work, being lit aflame or shot is a genuine concern.
But frankly, the metal press’s focus on McSorley is misplaced. He’s a capable screamer, but his minimal face time and his decision not to include his lyrics in Gin’s packaging means that his role is necessarily limited. Erik Wunder, the band’s polymath instrumentalist, drives Cobalt’s sound, and it’s his stark, barbaric compositions that make this band so special.
Much has been made of Gin’s progressive slant, and Wunder certainly grafts more droning textures, quiet interlude tracks and funky time signatures onto the band’s blackened-thrash skeleton than he did on Eater of Birds. The shift has drawn tons of Tool comparisons, and at times they seem apt. “Dry Body” creeps along at a more restrained pace than anything in Cobalt’s catalog; Wunder contributes some eerie moans over clean guitars and very Danny Carey-ish polyrhythmic drumming until the song builds into a pounding, off-time crescendo. “Pregnant Insect,” meanwhile, tears at your throat with rust-coated punk aggression before rolling into one of Cobalt’s signature apocalyptic grooves. Things take a turn for the weird when experimental-rock queen Jarboe provides an occult chant that leads into a weirdly melodic coda.
But even at their gentlest, Cobalt never mirror Tool’s hippie-dippy aesthetic—this music comes from an atavistic, ugly part of the human psyche. Hard chargers like “Arsonry” and the title track are mean-spirited black metal, dumping buckets of rancid guitar filth all over your head with sadistic glee (great guitar tone here, as an aside). But, as ever, Cobalt are at their best when they indulge their capacity for building monstrous instrumental climaxes. The repetitive, thunderous crescendos that conclude “Stomach,” “Pregnant Insect” and “Two-Thumbed Fist” bear an unspeakably evil, ritualistic quality that I can only compare to Neurosis. Rarely, if ever, have I heard a band rooted in black metal get so heavy or so cathartic.
If Gin has a weakness, it’s that it ends with more of a whimper than a bang—“A Starved Horror” pales in comparison to many of its predecessors, and the weirdo vocal-chant hidden track hardly makes for a crushing conclusion. That said, I can’t think of a whole hell of a lot else to complain about here. Some might be put off by the slightly less aggressive tone and pacing of this album relative to Cobalt’s catalog, but I’m honestly glad they didn’t try to make Eater Of Birds II. Gin is a distinctive, powerful, and very sincere album delivered with exquisite attention to detail by two very intense men. As of this moment, Cobalt deserve a place next to Leviathan, Nachtmystium, Averse Sefira, and Wolves in the Throne Room at the forefront of modern American black metal.
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