Black Cobra – Chronomega

Black Cobra - Chronomega

Mastodon. Leviathan. Behemoth. Taking a look at some of the leaders from all corners of the current metal scene, one begins to realize that regardless of subgenre, these heavy-hitters have one thing in common: names tying them to larger-than-life wrecking machines. In all instances, there’s no denying that the gargantuan sound and razor-sharp chops these bands possess are befitting of the imagery. But who says you can’t make all that killing compact? Black Cobra, a Los Angeles duo sourcing its talent directly from two of the most influential sludge outlets of the past 15 years – Cavity and 16 – manifests its moniker better than just about all of ‘em. Guitarist Jason Landrian and drummer Raf Martinez load more lethality into their bare essentials than collectives three times their size, and claim ownership over a tone and pummel that should make other metal acts envious, if not downright mystified. Like twin fangs injecting a dose of venom exponentially larger than their own stealthy frame, Black Cobra strike hard, viciously, and above all, surprisingly fast.

Bestial, the band’s 2006 debut full-length for At A Loss Recordings snuck up on me like few albums before or since, having grabbed it based solely on pedigree and expecting more of the same. I was dumbstruck upon spinning that disc for the first time – opener “One Nine” sounded as if its massive riffing was tearing giant yawns in the dimensional fabric, sucking Martinez’s unyielding pounds into some kind of gaping metal black hole. Coming in several BPMs faster than the average sludge metal release, Bestial still showed off Black Cobra’s mastery of the form, slowing down and stretching out to gunk up the works at the most opportune times (“Beneath”, “Omniscient”, “Sombra De Bestia”). It’s extremely hard to walk away from that album without bearing its bite marks, and as a matter of full disclosure, I still find it sneaking its way into heavy rotation today.

Upon learning that Black Cobra’s follow-up to 2007’s Feather And Stone would be produced by genre mainstay Billy Anderson and released via doom juggernaut Southern Lord, naturally my interest was immediately piqued. After all, label maxim Maximum Volume Yields Maximum Results plays closely to Black Cobra’s own modus operandi, and despite Feather And Stone’s prudent expansion of sound and general solidity, it lacked some of the suffocating heaviness that initially drew me to the band. Certainly, the man behind the boards for Dopesmoker and Enemy Of The Sun and the robed conglomerate responsible for Burning Witch, Goatsnake, and Sunn O))) could tap back into the leagues-deep low-end that made Bestial hit me like a brick wall strapped to the front of freight train.  So, with the release of Chronomega, it is with some reservation that I must say many of the new album’s most impressive aspects are also the reasons why I’m left disappointed overall.

While I’m never a fan of studio trickery overblowing a band’s sound to impossible-to-recreate proportions, the album’s production places perhaps too great an emphasis on the inverse, distilling Black Cobra’s performances closer to the natural balance of a traditional metal band. I wouldn’t say it doesn’t make sense; Chronomega features a much more technical bent and the gravitational pull generated by heavier production would likely overwhelm the entire affair with fuzzed-beyond logic riffs. That in itself would be a shame, as Raf Martinez’s endlessly-warping fills and galloping tom work give the album its strongest injection of scattershot intensity, and Landrian’s vocals have grown much more forceful and defined than those featured in earlier material. Still, I can’t help but feel that the songs here are lacking for not receiving the full-bodied thickness that has become Billy Anderson’s trademark.

Chronomega’s enhanced sonic clarity, however, doesn’t mean my memories of it will be any clearer. The increased intensity causes the album to play out as one long aggressive high, leaving Black Cobra stranded atop a plateau where its metal is mostly devoid of the sludge you used to get thrown in for free. It’s not a bad ride, necessarily – “Catalyst” and “Lightning In His Hand”, specifically, recapture and improve upon the mood of the band’s breathtaking infancy. I’d just venture to say that the new material for the most part is simply too blurred and similar track-to-track – and for that matter, far too analogous to what High On Fire’s already been churning out for over 10 years. If that’s the metal you’re in the market for, go ahead and kiss the Cobra; I’ll continue to get wrapped up in Bestial.

Southern Lord Records