Cobalt. Hi-Dive. 09.24.16
Back in 2012 I wrote an extensive profile on Profound Lore Records. It had been three years since Cobalt’s groundbreaking Gin had been released and Chris Bruni was confident the follow-up was on its way. “Phil has done his service in Iraq, which is great, so Cobalt will become a focus. They are currently writing the next full-length which will be entitled Slow Forever. I think this could see a Spring/early Summer 2013 release date at the pace they are going. Things are productive in the Cobalt camp for sure.”
The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry though, especially when dealing with men who dwell in the darkness of extreme metal. Slow Forever ended up seeing the light of day, but not until the Spring of 2016. By that time the make-up of the band had changed quite a bit. Phil McSorley let some personal issues get the best of him, prompting his departure from Cobalt and leaving Erik Wunder on his own. When a man who creates black metal refers to humanity as “repulsive cowards and sheep,” no one blinks an eye, but when that hatred manifests itself into a social media barrage against women and homosexuals, a line is drawn that some are not willing to cross.
Erik Wunder almost threw in the towel as well, but with the help of another somewhat controversial figure, he was able to continue the Cobalt name. And in doing so, he released one of the best albums of the year. Wunder fleshed out the skeleton of what was started with his lifelong friend, but the vocal and lyrical content was assigned to Charlie Fell of Lord Mantis. Handed the words ‘noble savage’ and ‘primal man’, Fell was tasked with filling in the narrative for Slow Forever.
Considering himself a huge fan of the band, as well as a friend to both Wunder and McSorley, the man who had previously dealt with heroin addiction (and his own accusations of racism) had quite the task in front of him. To say he was right for the part is an understatement though. Never lacking in the brutality department, Fell was able to transition from Lord Mantis subject matter to Cobalt’s animalistic nature with ease. And as he proved on Saturday night, he was perfectly cast as the beastly frontman for this new iteration of the band.
Due to McSorley’s time overseas in the military, Cobalt didn’t get around to being a touring group until over a decade after they formed. Maryland Deathfest 2013, which was only their third live performance ever, kicked off a short East Coast run, but last month was the first time they’d found themselves on stages west of the Mississippi. Originally a Colorado-based band (I believe Wunder moved back recently), my understanding is they had never actually played in Denver before, so calling their Hi-Dive performance a homecoming isn’t exactly correct. But it was the first time most of us had seen them live.
Hi-Dive is never going to be the premier venue for metal in the Mile High City, but the fact that TRVE Brewing now exists a couple blocks away helps. That’s where we spent our time before the show, preparing ourselves with pints of Black Cascade, Possession, and Wanderlust; heading over to the venue just in time for an insane opening set from Germany’s powerhouse duo, Mantar.
Cobalt, touring as a four-piece, took the rickety stage just after 11:30pm. Fell’s guttural howls filled the small space as they worked out some last minute sound issues. Wunder was situated behind the kit, while the touring guitarist and bassist were working on their own sound. “Thanks for coming out everybody,” Fell addressed the crowd in his best human voice, before the set exploded with “Hunt the Buffalo”.
“I am not a man I am not a man I am not a man!!!”
“Arsonry” was up next, putting to rest any concerns that the pre-Fell material would be absent from the setlist. The lighting rig at Hi-Dive is almost non-existent, so the band was plagued by darkness the entire performance. Fell’s shadow writhed in convulsion as his mic chord became a plaything in his hand; acting as a prop to reinforce “Beast Whip” and turning into a noose for much of the set. His shirt came off during the Eater of Birds selections, and a fan in the front row was able to unleash his best McSorley impression into the mic during “Blood Eagle Sacrifice”.
It was during “Witherer” when things got a little strange. Fell doused himself in a dark liquid and continued to rub it all over his torso during that track. Before I could figure out what the substance was, Fell spoke about how Cobalt has been “one of my favorite bands for a long fucking time.” Then he brought a guy up from the audience. Wunder came around from the kit to hug the new addition, before Fell handed him the mic. “I used to be in this band,” McSorley announced, before taking over lead vocals for Gin.
As a fan of extreme metal, sometimes I have to be able to separate the musician from the music. So, as much as I don’t agree with a lot of things McSorley has said, “Gin” is one awesome song…and it was something special to see it performed in its original form.
Fell came out and finished “Gin” with his old friend before continuing the set with the new material. “Elephant Graveyard” and “Slow Forever” closed things out, while Fell smeared more shit on his body. McSorley could be seen drinking a beer and watching from the sidelines until the show was complete. The whole thing came to an end just before 1:00am.
Hi-Dive isn’t my favorite venue, but I have to say it was the perfect place for Cobalt to end their tour. Dark, dingy, and full of Denver’s proudest degenerates; the scene was set for Wunder, Fell, and McSorley to celebrate the decay of civilization.
When I spoke to Chris Bruni in 2012, he had high hopes for the future of Cobalt, and while the road took the band in a different direction, it seems Bruni was right. Things really are productive in the Cobalt camp. It might have taken a few extra years, but the tour and the album were worth the wait.
Hunt the Buffalo
Blood Eagle Sacrifice
Gin (Phil McSorley on vocals)