Black metal has never been a genre I’ve been able to really mesh with. Despite my love of extreme music and metal in particular, black metal—especially the church-burning Norwegian kind—has never been my thing. For me, traditional vocals of the genre sound like someone trying to sound scary in a haunted house, and that does not mesh well with the often low-fi production used by bands like Mayhem on their “classic” albums. I like epic vocals and big sounds on the instruments, the louder the better. Trying to sound as guttural and gross as possible (plus the extreme elitism around the scene and what is “true” black metal) has just never attracted me.
And yet, I find myself writing the following: “Slow Forever,” the new album by Greeley, Colorado’s premiere progressive black metal band Cobalt, is already a top choice for my album of the year. With the hundreds of metal releases I listen to per year, underground and well-known alike, it takes a lot to blow me away. Deafheaven did it with their album “Sunbather” way back in 2013, and just last year, Horrendous’ classic tech-death album “Anareta” was a mainstay in my ears. But those were both albums I discovered well after their respective releases, after they had garnered considerable acclaim.
“Slow Forever” is an album I have listened to all the way through several times already, less than a week after it came out. Despite, and perhaps because of its epic 86-minute length, “Slow Forever” is a musical challenge. The vocals from new member and ex-Lord Mantis singer Charlie Fell never wane in pitch or intensity, at least not lower than “hear my shrieks and despair.” The guitar parts on songs like album opener “Hunt the Buffalo” and “Ruiner” have some of the trappings of black metal—very fast single notes and power chords—but add a level of melody that sounds almost bluesy at times. The album is also heavily influenced by punk, with songs like “Cold Breaker” opening on a heavy bass riff that the guitars imitate with power chords.
The record is also relentlessly complex: many of the 12 songs are over seven minutes in length and consist of multiple layers and signature changes. A couple of the songs never repeat a riff or a breakdown for more than a minute, and sound like they are made of multiple suites. Even when there are repetitions in songs, they are split up by a whole lot of cool stuff, and none of it is boring, even though the album is so long.
I may not have had any idea what the vocals were saying while I was listening to “Slow Forever,” but I really enjoyed the journey. As sonically challenging as it is, “Slow Forever” is always fun to listen to and never unpleasant. The production is just how I like my 86-minute black metal double albums: big, loud and scary. The influence of hardcore and punk is welcome, and Charlie Fell’s vocals fit very well with the entire sound. If this is your kind of music, check it out: it’s quite something.