Cobalt, Slow Forever (Profound Lore, 2016)

I found this album off-putting at first. One appeal of extreme metal (one of many, I insist) is the density of ideas: a multitude of voices and instruments, manic but precise, each collaborative yet competing for attention, plus screaming and double bass drum. I love combing through such mayhem to uncover the order underneath. It’s what I want when I listen to metal.

Slow Forever is different: each song is a series of riffs, one after the other, supported by a rhythm section, with intermittent screaming on top. On first listen, not a lot to parse. If this is black metal, as I’ve read, I don’t hear it because description above. However, like with all great art I spend money on, I decided to meet this one halfway, and was rewarded once I could hear the music for what it is, rather than for what I wanted it to be–always the hardest step when listening to something unfamiliar.

So what is it exactly? It’s magnitude rather than mass. Wide open space. Riffs with nothing to hide. No desire to obfuscate. Beauty. Clarity. Power.

No, really, what is it exactly? I’ll start at the beginning:

Extreme metal is like chocolate. It can taste good or it can taste bad, but usually it still tastes like that one thing: it tastes like chocolate. But chocolate can also have an infinite variety of subtle flavors, and even though at some level it all tastes like chocolate, every sampling remains a unique aesthetic experience, and I never tire of it. There are similar analogies to make using pizza or sex, but I’ll stick with chocolate.

Further, I hear extreme metal as an outburst due to life that is stressed and in crisis. That stress can be environmental, or internal, or even self-imposed: for example, I’m from the East Coast, so for whatever reason I require a little pressure on me to feel balance in my life. So maybe some of us even crave the stress so we can have the outburst. Whatever the source, extreme metal provides music of stress and physical release. Imagine a man in crisis, seeking relief, walking into the wilderness, stripping off his shirt, smearing corpse paint around his eyes and breathing fire like a warrior. It’s a special kind of beauty. That’s metal to me.

And that’s how I hear it: as an endless variation on that single act. Sometimes, when listening to Motörhead or Gehennah, the act also includes beer. But the aesthetic experience is largely the same.

Musically, that tension and release is the product of texture and pacing. There is melody and there are hooks, but what I desperately want is the drama that is unique to extreme metal and particular to its best songs, albums and bands. My preferred formula simulates cacophony: some version of the aforementioned voices, collaborative yet competitive, plus screaming and double bass drum. I love riffs which pile on the half-steps to conjure that immortal devil’s interval; the resultant mass is like emotion simmering in your chest, incomprehensible, waiting for release.

In contrast, Slow Forever is wide open, yet provides similar feels. Erik Wunder’s most striking riffs borrow from the blues and suggest harmonic possibility instead of obsessive introspection. As a whole, where I expected a swirling mass, I got meticulousness and magnitude: riffs carved in stone, without obfuscation, like cracks of thunder. Perhaps the clarity of the thing surprised me because I expected some black metal morass. Morass it is not. I put these riffs in my bones and let them sit.

If I have a criticism, it’s that initially Charlie Fell’s performance sounded pasted on rather than intuitively set within the rest of the music. Once I learned the album in my guts, however, I let that go. I let it all go. It was worth it.