Black Cobra - Invernal (2011)Release ID: 25870
Invernal is composed of thick, dense riffs that are common in sludge metal but which also possess a thrashiness and complexity that is much less common in the genre. This makes the album sound more kinetic than the vast majority of sludge, which by it's very nature is a slothful style of metal, but there is more than enough doominess present, despite the uptempo pacing, to justify it sitting under the Fallen's umbrella. Instrumentally this is a really fine album, the complexity of the busy riffing on a track like Somnae tenebrae is exceedingly interesting and doesn't fall into the trap of excessive "jerkiness" that I feel with a lot of technical metal and all the tracks flow along really nicely. When the band do turn in a slower-paced riff like the early riff in Corrosion Fields then they build a nice, ominous atmosphere and they aren't afraid to occasionally insert a gentle post-metal section, such as during Abyss, to break things up a little and build anticipation for their next aural assault. The production is great and very clean-sounding, which isn't always a plus for a sludge metal album, but doesn't hurt the sound here and the riffs, although they aren't as muddy as those on many other sludge releases, have a depth and "crunch" that should satisfy all but the most demanding of sludge metal fundamentalists. It is fairly unbelievable to me that this has no bass at all, because the guitar sound has such amazing depth to it that you don't even notice the four-string's absence. The drumming is excellent, but is occasionally drowned out a little, particularly on faster sections like during the middle of Erebus Dawn, however, Rafael Martinez is a busy little bee and he turns in a performance to rival even Animal from the Muppets!
The "but" is coming now I am afraid, and it is the vocals that are the subject of it. Like Vinny I think the vocals are the weak point. I actually don't mind them per se, they are not as grating or ascerbic as some sludge vocals and they don't have the shouty, "spoilt toddler" quality that turns me off to other releases so often, but they just don't sit comfortably here with the instrumental work. I have seen elsewhere that there is little variety to be found on Invernal, which I would ascribe to the singing as it does seem to sound the same on nearly every track and the accusation of lack of variety can't really be laid at the door of the instrumentalists. Invernal would definitely benefit from a more aggressive-sounding and harsher singer I feel.
In summation, this is a really excellent album musically and the two guys have done a great job of sounding like twice that many, but they really should look at drafting in another singer to push them into the top echelon of sludge metal marvellousness.
I have discovered that Black Cobra are very much a tale of two halves. One half (the instrumentation and all round quality playing thereof) is superb. It is full of grimy grit and abrasive surfaces that literally hack bits off you as you venture through all eight tracks of Invernal. The pacing is relentless and scarring and literally feels like it is daring you to go any further, like it is goading the listener to have the stomach to delve further into the filthy mire of the record content. With slightly progressive rhythms being exposed at times, the record feels like it is a lot more calculating than you may at first give it credit for. It is this possession of a devious intellect that keeps me focused on the record for its whole duration in all honesty as for the first few listens at least I was second guessing the direction it would take next.
Still, a distinctly ugly nature permeates from Invernal and if anything it only gets uglier the longer you listen, it just happens to be in possession of a charming wit that sees you look past the unappealing façade and become drawn to the record like it is a supermodel in a flannel shirt and jeans. The intense layering that gets deployed here is dizzying to the point of being sickening at times with some tracks feeling like they are on an eternal upwards spiral. And, when there are brief moments of respite this tricky little record goes off into post-rock territory, just for shits and giggles before lulling you back in for another sludgey pummelling. The drums of Martine are consistent throughout and considering there is no bass whatsoever the punch in the guitar is nothing short of phenomenal when you take time to reflect (I mean, it took me a couple of listens to realise there was no bass on this).
My challenge with Black Cobra overall comes in that second half of the equation that I have managed to avoid for two paragraphs. The vocals.
I just cannot get on with Landrian's rugged style that although is true to form in the delivery of succinct, hardcore-influenced spats of raw aggression at the same time it suffers in the pitch and the tone department for me. They have a sort of melodic death metal edge to them that comes across as being a tad sterile overall and dilutes the impact of the vocal prowess on the record. Perhaps the lack of bass is where this vocal element finds itself more exposed in listening experience but I cannot help but feel that for all the power that the guitar puts into each track here, the vocals tip a fair old portion out whenever they appear. Tight as the Black Cobra unit so very clearly is, all the hard work of the drums and guitars does feel like it is undone considerably for me by the vocals and I actually would enjoy this more if it were an instrumental record.