BEST OF BRITISH 2019: COGNIZANCE / PSOTY / TORPOR
(Andy Synn again turns his attention to albums released by bands from the UK, and this time has provided reviews of new releases by Cognizance, PSOTY, and Torpor.)
You may have noticed DGR’s sly little dig at me in Part 1 of his recent round-up series last week and, rest assured, there will be repercussions. Terrible, terrible repercussions.
That being said, it’s good that he’s catching a few things that slip through my net as, no matter how hard I try, there’s no way I can cover absolutely every album and artist coming out of the UK scene that’s worth writing about.
In today’s column you’ll find my thoughts on a highly-anticipated, and understandably hyped, helping of razor-sharp Tech-Death, some brilliantly melodic, emphatically emotive Post-Metal, and a grim and gritty slab of suffocating Sludge, each of which is well worth checking out if any of those genres is your particular cup of tea (or whatever your daytime beverage of choice is).
COGNIZANCE – MALIGNANT DOMINION
Cognizance (now signed to Prosthetic Records) have been a regular fixture on the Tech Death scene, both here and abroad, for several years now, so there’s a lot riding on this, their first full-length album.
And while it doesn’t quite hit the incredibly high bar set by the group’s previous releases (not as consistently anyway), it still more than justifies the band’s recent step up to the big leagues.
The strength of Cognizance’s material has always been that, in spite of their obvious technical talents, the quartet have always prioritised song over shred, and, as a result, no matter how blast-happy or hyper-intense things get it’s always possible to discern the precisely proportioned structure and keenly sharpened hooks underlying every fret-mangling riff or sudden time-shift.
This remains true on Malignant Dominion, which also showcases an expansion of the band’s more melodic sensibilities that had previously been hinted at on songs like “Spectrum” and “The Foreboding Impasse” (which I’m shocked didn’t make a reappearance here actually), meaning that much of the material found here flows even more naturally (and organically) than ever, with the band moving fluidly from riff to riff with an agility that only serves to emphasise the impact of those moments where they throw a sudden, jarring twist in momentum or direction at you.
If there’s one flaw that undermines this album’s best efforts, however, it’s that it frequently pays tribute to its key influences – The Faceless (“The Organic Citadel”), Job For A Cowboy (“Strychnine Shift”), and Extol (“Malignant Dominion”) – in a way that errs a little too close for comfort.
These aren’t bad songs by any means, but it doesn’t help that Cognizance brought in current/ex-members of each of those bands (Derek Rydquist, Jonny Davy, and Ole Borud) to provide guest vocals, thus exacerbating the perception of a band still too intent on imitating their idols to truly surpass them.
And that’s a shame, as the Cognizance crew are still capable of whipping up quite a storm even when standing on the shoulders of giants (“The Organic Citadel” is one of the album’s early highlights, for example), while the more original/unique tracks like “A Lesson Through Sickness” and “Ether of the Void” provide a powerful argument for just why the group have risen through the ranks when so many others have fallen by the wayside.
Malignant Dominion also saves two of its very best cuts for last in the form of the moody, darkly melodic “Unforeseen Consequences” and the proggy, propulsive “An Existential Battle” which, while still owing a bit of a debt to the early work of Michael Keene and co., manage to take this sound and make it their own.
Previous evidence proves that Cognizance have more than just a seed of greatness in them, and although that seed may not have fully blossomed quite yet, I can still recommend that you give this album a listen next time you’re jonesing for your next fix of high-quality Tech Death destruction.
PSOTY – SUNLESS
It’s still fascinating to me to see what bands get hyped to the moon, and what bands don’t.
You see, around the same time I first stumbled across Sunless I also received a promo for the debut album from another highly-hyped UK Post-Metal group, and I couldn’t help but compare the two.
Suffice it to say that the latter album was a big disappointment, suffering from formulaic songs (I swear 75% of them possessed the exact same structure) and a general sense that the entire record had been focus-tested to death in order to appeal to the widest cross-section of listeners possible, sacrificing any substance it might have possessed in exchange for a slick, stylistic sheen.
By contrast there’s something about Sunless, something which I can’t necessarily put into words but can at least hint at, that feels infinitely more vital, infinitely more real.
Nothing about it seems staged or calculated. Nor does it aspire towards the sort of desperate melodrama that other bands often confuse with being able to forge an actual emotional connection, aiming instead for a natural ebb and flow of energy and feeling that’s both thrillingly dynamic and effortlessly captivating.
Perhaps one reason for this album’s success is that it’s actually quite an atypical example of Post-Metal, when all is said and done. Yes, the use of light and shade, the juxtaposition of towering riffs and calming atmospherics, fits the band neatly into the genre pocket, but the tracks on Sunless also share a clear affinity with the works of Junius, Thrice (particularly the band’s mid-late 2000s period), and even Nordic Giants.
It’s also striking that, for a band who consider themselves primarily instrumental (and, truth be told, half of these eight tracks are entirely instrumental), it’s the tracks with vocals that seem the most fully realised and rewarding.
That’s not to downplay the atmospheric brilliance of songs such as “The Yawning Void” and “Queen of Hades”, but it’s the blend of cinematic instrumentation and soul-stirring clean-sung melody on tracks like “Oil Blood”, “Watcher of the Abyss” (arguably the album’s finest moment), and the climactic pairing of “King of Phyra” and “Obscura” which really shows you what PSOTY are capable of when they’re firing on all cylinders.
In a scene that’s often overcrowded and oversubscribed this one is a real gem.
TORPOR – RHETORIC OF THE IMAGE
There is, to be clear, no way of talking about the new album from Sludge/Post-Metal three-piece Torpor without addressing the big, Cult of Luna shaped elephant in the room.
But while the similarities are obvious and undeniable, this isn’t necessarily something we should be shying away from. The band themselves certainly don’t, as while their work bears a major (and clearly acknowledged) debt to the Swedish titans, it’s more than just a simple copy-and-paste, and there are some key areas where Torpor have clearly worked very hard (and to great effect) to distance themselves from both their predecessors and their peers.
For one thing Rhetoric of the Image largely favours the sludgier, grimier side over the more expansive, Post-Metallic end of the spectrum, and while this isn’t a million miles away from early CoL, it’s arguably even harsher and even heavier, and several tracks (particularly during the pounding “Two heads of Gold” and the second half of “Enigmatic Demand”) even touch upon a painfully distorted, semi-industrial tone reminiscent of Godflesh.
That doesn’t mean that Rhetoric… is totally bereft of melody by any means, as the painfully bleak mid-section of humongously heavy opener “Benign Circle” so aptly demonstrates, or that the band are afraid of exploring any dynamic beyond the “everything louder than everything else” approach, with their use of melancholy minimalism (“Mouths Full of Water, Throats Full of Ice”) and haunting negative space (such as during punishing, paranoia-inducing closer “Mourning the Real”) definitively proving that sometimes less really can be more.
Of course the real bones of this record are its riffs, and thankfully they’re made of pure steel, and of such density that I’m surprised at least one member of the band didn’t suffer a herniated disc during the recording process.
As a matter of fact, the guitar/bass tandem of Jon Taylor and Lauren Mason continually and consistently cranks out such a monstrously heavy sound that I’d imagine more than a few listeners will be surprised to learn that it’s just the two of them (and drummer Simon Mason) making all the racket!
So while Torpor may not be winning any awards for pure originality on their second album, they’re also not about to let themselves get overshadowed by bigger, and more famous acts either, and I can say (with at least some semblance of confidence) that the more you listen to this record the more you’ll want to keep coming back to it.