by Kim Kelly
As far as American black metal goes, Cobalt have got the market cornered on that classic “convoluted, vaguely threatening backstory” angle. The Colorado duo emerged in 2003 after the demise of Phil McSorley’s solo project, Grimness Enshroud, and quickly armed themselves with a sparse but jaw-dropping catalog. Through Cobalt’s raw, artful compositions and tendency to lay bare their own faults and demons, the concept of “war metal” finally shed its inherent flaws and became tangible, far removed from gas masks and goat worship. Their music’s visceral, innovative appeal won over underground ‘heads and critics alike, and at the height of the well-deserved furor over 2009’s masterful Gin, they disappeared. Multi-instrumentalist Erik Wunder relocated to Brooklyn, whilst vocalist, lyricist and sometimes guitarist McSorley, an Army sergeant, shipped off to Iraq. All remained quiet on the Cobalt front until a few months ago. Panties were twisted, eyebrows were raised, and “Order Now” buttons were feverishly clicked as news of their first ever tour spread like wildfire, and a handful of dates popped up around their Maryland Deathfest performance. Once the dust from that already legendary gig had cleared, I hopped in the van Almost Famous-style to sling their merch, document the proceedings and keep the boys from killing each other.
It’s the first day of tour, and everyone is hung over except Josh Lozano, the straight-edge ’90s throwback (and Fashion Week/Man’s Gin/FAMILY member) who’s filling in on guitar. MDF is a cruel mistress at the best of times, and the usual pre-tour organizational scrum is hitting us hard. After a failed pub visit, misplaced equipment and some goat stew, we’re finally all present and accounted for, and are on our way to Pittsburgh’s Smiling Moose. There are five of us crammed into the van they’d rented from Batillus’ Fade Kainer, plus all manner of gear, backpacks and Josh’s seemingly endless supply of granola bars. He and Mutilation Rites’ Michael Dimmett (who’s filling in on bass) spend the next four hours bickering, while Erik and Phil hunker down up front with some Profanatica CDs and a Boyd Rice biography. A backseat viewing of The Waterboy commences, and, for now, peace reigns.
There are a lot of disparate personalities involved in this run, but somehow it works. Erik Wunder is always smiling and seems over the moon to be reunited with his oldest friend, Phil, who is unfailingly friendly and polite, if a bit reserved and wary. Josh is goofy and endearingly Eeyore-esque, which gives Michael, who’s armed with a rapier wit, churlish disposition and seasoned DIY background, plenty of ammunition for backseat squabbling. Everyone else has done time on the road before, but for Phil, this is his first touring experience and a rare vacation from his grueling military duties. While he’s unquestionably a billion times tougher than any of us will ever be, it’s very different from his regimented schedule – after all, deriving order from chaos is the name of the game – but he seems up for the challenge.
The Smiling Moose is a small club at the top of a rather intimidating flight of stairs. The promoter, a nice young dude named Jon, helped us haul everything up and apologized profusely for the lack of drink tickets, then Lord Mantis rolled up and tour started feeling like tour. The show went well; despite the Melvins’ playing across town, there was a respectable amount of people there to be happily harangued by Lord Mantis’ disgusting black tar sludge and McSorley’s manic, blood-smeared attack. Someone unsuccessfully offered me heroin, but besides that, it was a pretty sober night. The first of many broken microphone stands was left behind as we loaded out into the rain and dithered over sleeping arrangements. A Primanti Bros run was deemed essential, and, bellies groaning, a jumble of us packed into the Chicago dudes’ hotel room and got snuggly. Phil stretched out on the floor while the rest of us figured out how to fit six people into two beds and a rollaway camp bed. We already smell terrible.
Hot dogs, an honest-to-fuck beer cave (!), and Lord Mantis’ ritualistic bestowal of the storied “poop shirt” upon Erik and Phil started off Day 2 on a high note. Michael won’t shut up about how awesome the Ethiopian food is at the Harrisonburg venue, the Blue Nile. The rest of us are skeptical, but it turns out he was right (I’m a five-year-old and demurred, but everyone else licked the communal plate clean). A few tense moments erupted after Erik discovered he’d lost his bag somewhere; the grinding stress of touring has a knack of magnifying little problems into BIG FUCKING PROBLEMS, but everything sorted itself out eventually. The venue was small but welcoming, as was the audience itself, and the bill for tonight was stacked sky-high. Earthling and Inter Arma both kill it, of course, and while the crowd seemed confused during Lord Mantis’ set (what about a scruffy tattooed beast-man snarling “I smell your pussy” is hard to understand?), the troops rallied for Cobalt. Erik’s love of Tool is becoming more and more obvious as he loosens up behind the kit. The band’s getting tighter, and more comfortable. The machine’s clanking into gear. There’s blood in the air tonight.
The scabs on Phil’s forehead get gnarlier every day, and another microphone stand bites the dust. Watching him onstage in tiny venues like this is exhilarating, and a bit frightening; he radiates tension, visibly grappling with his own rage and hate, clutching at his head and screaming at the sky like it’s listening.
Rumors of a party and promises of a place to crash found us chasing our own tails across town. We ultimately escaped the stoned confusion of it all to beat a hasty retreat to Waffle House and cram into another cheap hotel room. Seven bodies, one room, and a lot of dirty socks is either the premise for the lamest porno ever…or a Cobalt/Lord Mantis slumber party.
TO BE CONTINUED…