We've seen it before; bands struggle to break through their own self-created glass ceiling, failing to recreate past success, while driving towards future evolution. In this business, it's not the exception, it's the rule. Seattle drum and bass two piece Year of The Cobra set the bar high for themselves with their debut EP, The Black Sun. At the time, it almost felt as though it was impossibly high. They embodied everything about doom, new and old, that draws fans from around the world. The praise they accrued after the EP's release - both digitally, and subsequently on vinyl - can be worn like a growing badge of honor. But unlike the others, they've turned the page from what was, to what can and will be. The band's debut full-length, In The Shadows Below, isn't a different take on the same riff; it's a career defining moment to begin a career soon to be full of them.
Nevermind that In The Shadows Below is a Forrest Gump-ian take on all things doom; doom rock, doom metal, post doom, stoner doom, and even doom punk. It extends its reach far beyond the boundaries of a single branch on the massive tree of heavy music. That there is not a sniff of guitar anywhere on the album is no longer worth mentioning, as the instrumental progression is larger than any other line-up could achieve. The driving melodies are taken completely by the bass, delivering distorted and groove laden textures the likes of which you'd be hard pressed to recreate on your own four string. It's a rhythm section amplified; expanding and immersive to eye opening results.
Vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith often delivers her lyrics as though she's speaking to you from the other side; an inter-dimensional invitation to join her in a graveyard at midnight to listen to the first four Black Sabbath albums and talk about existential problems. Her first words in Lion And The Unicorn would be enough to push you through the cemetery gate to a lonely tombstone, turntable in hand. Her voice alone would be enough to drive a listener, male or female, to a combination of madness and pure bliss. And it's in that voice that the band has taken a giant leap forward. Still raw and ghostly, but with a refined, smoothed out edge that makes its impact all the more lasting.
Having worked with studio wizard Billy Anderson, whose credits can be found in the booklets and jackets from the likes of Sleep and The Melvins, there is also a notable uptick in the entire production of the album. Reduced to its bottom concept, it sounds bigger than before; it's a tidal wave where there was once waves fit for surfing. Drummer Jon Barrysmith's kit is as finely tuned as any in the metal business; every resounding thud of the kick drum rattling your sub woofer well beyond its capability, the snap of the snare drum cutting through the mix with strength and conviction. It isn't just the way it sounds, really, but the way every fill and roll is metronome-precise in its timing. See Persephone or The Siege, for example.
The result is, through the course of eight songs, masterfully written, performed, and produced, an album that shatters expectations in every conceivable way. It doesn't pick up where The Black Sun left off, it damn near erases the memory of the EP all together. Because while those three songs felt extraordinary at the time, they represented what, at the time, was limitless potential. They are dwarfed by every facet of this record, right down to the final notes on what is, by our excessive listens, the best song on the album, Electric Warrior. And even that feels wrong to say, speaking of an album that is highlight after highlight, a eight song quest to one-up themselves at every turn. I would suspect that, as time goes on, the favorite track might change with each and every spin.
And as you digest everything we've said - hopefully while listening to the album, front to back - it's important to remember the true nature of the music industry. The legacy of an album isn't determined by pre-order numbers, or first week sales figures. It isn't about anything tangible or quantitative at all. I'd argue there is no way to truly measure greatness. Instead, the lasting effect of an album is felt by the listener on the first spin, the second, and, moreso, the fiftieth. It's an impression pushed so deeply into their mind that it becomes impossible to separate life before, and life after the moment of impact. And after listening to In The Shadows Below more times than I feel comfortable admitting, I feel as though we're hearing turning potential into reality.