Jonesing for some cave-galloping, sludgy-toned, fuzzy hate-spittle metal? Feel like you haven’t gotten your rocks off properly for the past several years? Then you’re probably already a Black Cobra fan. If you weren’t already a fan, you can get in on the, eh, fifth floor right now with the Cali band’s forthcoming record, Imperium Sumulacra, due for release on Season of Mist on February 26. Play at full volume, run through a set of speakers with their own volume knobs thrown into the red, amplified further by whatever means necessary. This is music meant to soundtrack armies conquering demon hordes atop roiling volcano peaks. It’s what happens when you combine rhythmic prowess with amp worship and unerring focus.
We asked drummer Rafael Martinez to weigh in on the band’s new album, past performances and upcoming U.S. tour with Bongzilla. He had enough to say for you to get a good eyeful while you punish your ears with the new record’s thunderhead darkness. Ride the Cobra!
After a pretty regular recording schedule through 2011, it’s now been a while since the last Black Cobra record. What have you been up to for the past few years? How long have you been working on the music for this record?
We’ve been very busy. Invernal came out at the end of 2011, and we went on tour for a while right after with Kyuss and The Sword. Shortly after that we went to Europe with Corrosion Of Conformity and then headed to Australia to do two weeks with FuManchu. After that we did North America with Corrosion Of Conformity and Torche. We kept going and going but we spread things out a little more on that release. On the previous album, Chronomega, we did 180 shows in 10 months. For Invernal we did a total of three tours in Europe, six tours in North America, and two tours in Australia but it was spaced out more in the two subsequent years since the release. Every time we were going to take a break we kept getting offers that we didn’t want to turn down like headlining the main stage at Roadburn in Holland and then the next year doing Hellfest in France with Sleep and Neurosis. We started working on new material at the end of 2014 but we ended up doing four tours in 2015 so we scheduled rehearsal/writing time between tours and when we had a time window long enough for us to record we flew to Gainesville, Florida to record. The new album was recorded, mixed, and mastered in June of last year but because of scheduling conflicts, Season of Mist had to wait ‘til early 2016 to release it. That’s what we’ve been up to.
Was your approach to the new album different from what you’ve done with previous records, either in the songwriting or the recording process?
I realized recently that we’ve approached almost every album in a different way. We wrote our first album Bestial when we were still living in different cities (NYC and L.A.). There was still a lot of material that was left over from the first record that we used on Feather & Stone but Jason had moved to L.A. so we worked on that album together in a recording facility I was running in North Hollywood. Then we moved to San Francisco after that and worked on our third record up here. The thing is, that record we wrote mostly in between tours so we pieced it together slowly. Invernal and Imperium Simulacra we started from scratch and just stayed home and worked on them.
How picky are you about tone when you record (or play live)? Do you rely on particular equipment to get a specific sound?
We’ve been using the same gear for the last 8 years. In the beginning we were blowing up amps and messing around trying to figure out what worked best and we’ve paired it down to the gear has can withstand touring mainly.
Were there any specific musical ideas you were interested in conveying with the new music that you had not focused on before?
There were some psychedelic elements that we wanted to add that gave things a different kind of dimension. We’ve always explored counter rhythmic structures that keeps things very intense and involved. There are so many facets of heavy music that you never know what we are going to discover. We’ve never sat down and said, “OK, let’s write a record that has this kind of beat and vocals and riffs that sound like this or that.” We get together and hammer away ‘til we find something that really moves us.
Are there philosophical or other non-musical ideas that drive your songs or your approach to playing?
Well I’ve always seen music as a release and an opportunity to externalize the internal. When you think of a performance from any composer, you are experiencing the manifestation of ideas that were conceived and arranged from the non-physical world of thought and are being brought to life into the physical world. We are harnessing vibrations and quantifying the eternal through our instruments. I always feel better after I play music.
With all the instrumental heaviness going on in your music, what role do you think vocals play in that context?
For this album specifically we really got into the writings of Phillip K Dick and Ray Kurzweil, futurist author and current chief engineer at Google. The whole concept stemmed from the idea of artificial intelligence surpassing the capabilities of organic life, otherwise known as the singularity. This has been done in science fiction many times. The interesting thing is that Dr. Kurzweil has predicted that singularity will happen around the year 2045 which is pretty soon. He also said that we will have successfully reverse engineered the human brain by the mid 2020’s which will put computers at human level intelligence. In 1986 he predicted the demise of the Soviet Union due to new technologies such as cellular phones and fax machines dis-empowering authoritarian governments by removing state control over the flow of information. Mikhael Gorbachev admitted to Dr. Kurzweil that emerging decentralized electronic communication was a big factor in establishing democratic ideals in the Soviet Union. Now this guy has been about ninety percent accurate in all his predictions which is why it got my attention. We are living in a very interesting time in the history of the human race. We have so much information available to us that we are using to learn about ourselves at an alarmingly fast processing rate. All these technological goodies like smart phones and tablets are making our lives very convenient but it comes with a price because as we know there is a good chance that we are all being monitored with every click we make every time we are online.
What are some of your favorite shows that you’ve played recently?
The whole tour with Yob last fall was great. The show in Los Angeles was absolute dynamite.
What are some other bands’ live shows that you’ve really enjoyed recently?
Sleep at Desert fest in London and Al DiMeola in San Francisco.
You’re touring the U.S. soon with Bongzilla. What are you most looking forward to on this tour? Do you get to check out any of the places you’ll be traveling to, or is the schedule pretty tight?
The schedule is pretty tight but we always find ways to check out things in all the towns. This is our 38th tour so we got a good handle on how to pace things on the road.
Is there some non-heavy music that gets you excited these days?
Rimsy Korsakov and Gyorgy Ligeti are absolutely genius.
After the album release and the Bongzilla tour, do you have other plans for Black Cobra in 2016?
We’ve got a lot of tours in the cross hairs. We are going to be out there quite a bit in support of the album. We are extremely excited on how everything is coming along. Season of Mist is doing a great job and we are very anxious to play the new songs live.