Cobalt - Gin
Profound Lore Records
Progressive Black Metal
61 songs (57:46)
Release year: 2009
Profound Lore Records
Reviewed by Goat
Album of the year

As nightmarish as war is, the eternal misery of scared young men forced to crawl in filthy fields and shoot other scared young men on the whim of a political leader many, many miles away, it often seems that the after-effects of war, the Post-Traumatic Shocks and Gulf War Syndromes that greet survivors on their escape from the battlefront, are worse. Of course, I’ve been fortunate never to have to go to war myself, and it’s easy to criticise soldiers as being mindless, soulless killing machines because, let’s face it, a lot of them are. Looking at war from a more humane perspective, however, it’s the nameless heroes that will truly matter, the ones that neither get the criticism nor the praise, the ones that avoid controversy and torture and rape and atrocity, just living their lives and getting the hell on with it.

This everyman atmosphere runs throughout USBM duo Cobalt’s discography, their distinct brand of Black Metal twisting and coiling itself into something beyond the genre, some terrible mixture of Black, Punk, Doom and Prog that defies description. On third full-length Gin, an album dedicated to Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S Thompson and divided into sixty-one tracks (mostly silence, with a hidden song) in tribute to the former’s age at the time of death, there’s a move towards truly invocatory territory, beyond even the excellent Eater Of Birds. Here, Cobalt have taken as much influence from Neurosis and Tool as they have more traditional Blackened monoliths, and these facets to the band’s sound have been polished until they shine. Gin is a gleaming black gemstone, a sprawling masterpiece that makes everything the band have released to date look poorer by its mere existence, and already one of my most treasured albums of the year.

Frequent readers of mine and the three Cobalt reviews I’ve done so far will already know that the band is Phil McSorley, a Sergeant in the US army stationed in Iraq who uses his leave time to record, and drummer extraordinaire Erik Wunder, the touring drummer for ex-Swans vocalist Jarboe who makes a guest appearance here. The main drive of the music, however, is the unflinching thunderous symphony of the guitar and drums that forms the twisted tower that Cobalt build so well. Each and every song present is killer, the opening title track a roar of intent that will send shivers down your spine with its sheer intensity. A drum roll leads you into the Tool-y opening chords of Dry Body, a nightmarish build-up voiced by Wunder in a marvellously Michael Gira-esque performance that is deceptively melodic, touching on psychedelic Americana of the finest kind. The lyrics are creepy in a messy, almost Stephen King-y way, repeated invocation ‘roll off the grass and let the insects breathe/roll off the grass and let the incest breed’ getting under your skin and staying there.

Although atmosphere plays a huge part, there are plenty of riffs to get to grips with. Arsonry is a raging beast, like Marduk gone truly psychotic, a mid-track break turning the track on its head with the Neurosis and Tool influences coming out strongly, tribal drumming driving steadily more and more crushing riffs as the song psychedelically changes and McSorley screeches ‘burn me down, shoot me in the chest!’ It’s just one of many stunning moments on the album, and that the song goes on to even more epic darkness is proof positive of the band’s skills. Don’t mistake the word ‘darkness’ for anything but, too; this isn’t ‘dark’ as in most bands’ idea of Satanic cheese, but ‘dark’ as in a potent exploration of the human psyche.

Gin continues to enthral throughout the listen, from the visceral brutality of Stomach from 2008’s Landfill Breastmilk Beast EP, through the Proggy twists of A Clean Well-Lighted Place and Jarboe’s unsettling performance on the Blackened Pregnant Insect. It’s insulting, really, to have to sum these incredible, intelligent tracks up so briefly, such is the stunning impact of each. If I had to choose a highlight, an impossible task since the album is such a gripping ride with no poorer moments whatsoever, it would have to be the nine-minute riff-filled madness of Two-Thumbed Fist, a malevolent journey that references both the pure Black Metal of Cobalt’s past and the Blackened Hardcore Punk and otherworldly Prog of the band’s present.

It’s all too rare these days that you get the chance to discover a band and follow their discography with such thrilling results, as I have done with Cobalt. Take the time out from the obvious nooks and crannies of the Black Metal scene, the corpsepainted hordes that get all the attention, draw up a chair to the fireside, away from the sounds of battle outside. Eyes closed, pour yourself a glass of Gin, and sink deep into this marvellous album. In a fair world, Cobalt would be bigger and better known than the likes of the overrated Nachtmystium – yes, I did just say that. Gin is a compelling, future classic slice of distinct and original Blackened Metal that will ride high in the end of year awards and that more than deserves to be listened to by all that are interested in Black Metal’s evolution, rather than its repetition.

Killing Songs :
Gin, Dry Body, Arsonry, Stomach, A Clean Well-Lighted Place, Pregnant Insect, Two-Thumbed Fist, A Starved Horror
Goat quoted 95 / 100
Other albums by Cobalt that we have reviewed:
Cobalt - Slow Forever reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Cobalt - Landfill Breastmilk Beast (EP) reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Cobalt - Eater Of Birds reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Cobalt - War Metal reviewed by Goat and quoted 77 / 100
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