“Shit me! How the fuck is he doing that?!” was pretty much my real-time verbal response upon surrendering my unsuspecting ears for the first time to Rafa Martinez’s impossible drumming on ‘Invernal’s opening onslaught, ‘Avalanche’. It’s the sound of a schizophrenic octopus, high on speed, hard liquor and murderous hatred trapped inside the body of a man locked in a darkened jail cell with a drum kit and nothing else for several years. He’s THAT good.
California’s Black Cobra are back with a devastating smash n’ ride of a follow-up to their 2009 Southern Lord debut ‘Chronomega’. It’s painfully clear (to my tympanic membranes at least) that years of relentless touring, opening stages for every big name in the Heavy Metal Yellow Pages, along with devoting themselves to creating a sound which both draws from and expands on the foundations laid by their earlier releases, that this is now a band very much set up to conquer the big time. Drummer Martinez and guitarist/vocalist Jason Landrian are now not only tighter than the shackles of a psychotic gorilla in captivity, but they’ve cemented a signature sound within a crowded sludge market and also taken their first forays into the dark world of concept records. ‘Invernal’ (roughly translated from Spanish as ‘wintrily’ or ‘winter-like cold’) is based around, in the band’s own words: “a post-apocalyptic trek to a nuclear infested and mutated Antarctica, inspired in part by the treks of English researcher Ernest Shackleton”, and evokes the bleak feeling of fear in a cold, spiteful, unforgiving environment in astonishing detail. Coupled with the sublime icicle-spiked cover art, this is a winter’s tale quite like no other.
‘Avalanche’ is the perfect title for the opening track – a landslide of furious hammer-on and slide riffs, backed up by Martinez’s rampaging, sub-human drum rolls and tom fills. The ferocity of playing verges on death metal at times, but Landrian’s growling bark, the E-string heavy riffing and his dazzling solo towards the song’s conclusion keep this firmly grounded within the most bombastic of sludge territories. Within this one devastating track alone, Black Cobra have catapulted their sound into something not just heavy, but mesmerising and memorable too, and Landrian’s vocals have now progressed into an essential part of the composition, rather than sitting flatly on top of the riffs.
‘Somnae Tenebrae’ carries ‘Avalanche’s mantle forward, Landrian’s guitar sounding like a runaway snow-plough fighting a rabid polar bear as the duo blitz forwards. ‘Corrosion Fields’ is absolutely colossal. Dropping the tempo to a snowstorm-fighting stagger, but upping the intensity to echo the gnarled sludge-masters High On Fire, this is a tale of epic torment; Landrian’s tortured bellow sounding both terrifying and hope-crushing simultaneously.
‘The Crimson Blade’ is another mid-tempo stomper, smouldering under Martinez’s wizened control, although the conclusion does drag out a little too long than is perhaps necessary. ‘Beyond’ is a pace-shifter; a heavy bass-smothered intro leads sharply into Martinez annihilating his snare in snob-nosed punk fury before the song lurches into a quiet, contemplative passage followed by the duo closing out proceedings with thick, slothian riffage.
The ‘Cobra launch straight back into the snowball fight of doom on ‘Erebus Dawn’ after a mere second of breath-catching. Martinez’s skill behind the double-bass peddles is once again remarkably fierce as the two-piece spew downtuned filth like the Antarctic volcano Erebus once spewed lava over sub-temperature caverns of ice. ‘Abyss’ centres around a complex, fret-board-dissecting prog riff and melts a path through a gloomy instrumental-only snow-scape. If you’ve ever seen the band’s video for ‘Sugar Water’ with the guitars backing the atomic vapourisation of a small defenceless house, you’ll know how this sound looks. ‘Obliteration’ is everything you’d hope for from a song entitled ‘Obliteration’ by the mighty Black Cobra. 2.5 minutes of frenzied blasting, chainsaw riffage and an abrupt ending which I imagine would be one hell of a live set-closer.
Armed with this wolfpack of beastly new songs plus their years of experience on the road, it’s hard to imagine there will be many bands willing to take to the stage after Black Cobra have detonated it. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see whether the band will rise from support slots with bands that have clearly influenced their expanded sound to headlining bigger tours. The “inbomnible snowman metal” thematic of ‘Invernal’ is clear, polished and focussed after being rammed home with Landrian’s trademark riffing tone and more articulate use of his throat. ‘Chronomega’ was a solid record, but ‘Invernal’ punches it in the stomach and pulls it’s girlfriend while it wretches on the ground, quite frankly. Buy the record and go see the band – the only icepack you will need is for your face afterwards.
Scribed by: Pete Green