(In late September Prosthetic Records released the second album by the UK band Cognizance, and better late than never we hope, DGR gives it the following very enthusiastic review.)
Upheaval, the newest album by tech-death group Cognizance, looks pretty standard if you go by tale-of-the-tape measurements for a disc, at ten songs and a little over thirty-three minutes. But one of the things that stands out with Upheaval – once you get past the eye-popping artwork – is that this is an album that fucking moves.
It may sound like a joke at first, but Cognizance waste absolutely no time with this one. The band find their groove early and stick to it for a half hour, and often you don’t even notice the time going by until the opening drum hit of “Hymns” reminds you that you’re back at song one.
Cognizance are brutally efficient with their time on Upheaval and it quickly lands the band in the ‘rolling landslide of riffs’ category of albums. You throw the thing on, it just bowls you over, and then the process starts anew. Which can sound wild at first, because it gives the impression that Upheaval kind of blasts by you without a second thought, but then you start breaking it down into individual songs and you realize that because the bar is set so high, so early on, that what is happening here is that Cognizance became ruthless in making hammering tech-death tracks in the interim.
photo by Nathan Francey
It’s no small wonder that Cognizance chose the songs they did to lead off the release of Upheaval, because those are the songs that really stand strong once broken out from the initial drive-by assault that is this release. It can’t be overstated just how quickly Upheaval moves with its music, and as a result, kind of flies by you on an initial listen. They don’t aim for the lightspeed tempos that their contemporaries play at, but the sheer wall of music they throw at you and the amount of ‘stuff’ they pack into it can make Upheaval seem like a blur, yet when songs are broken out individually they keep bearing fruit, with moments where you’re constantly like, ‘that part is awesome’, followed by another ‘oh, that’s really cool too’.
It’s a big factor of the two “Syntheticus” songs, for instance, which are as wall-to-wall guitar shred as the band gets, and one of the more traditionally technical show pieces on Upheaval. It’s also fun that one of the album’s highlights is its closing track, “Aeon Sickness”, which adds a strong guitar melody to its closing half and then ends like someone dropping a guillotine blade on it. It keeps building and building and then all of a sudden snaps out of existence – which is why it seems like Upheaval loops so easily. You kind of don’t notice after all that surgically sharp groove packed into “Aeon Sickness” that the song just ended — and then you’re right back to the opening drum hits of the two-minute grinder “Hymns”.
Cognizance go on an absolutely killer run early on in Upheaval too. There’s a three-pack of songs in “Decaying Gods”, “Oneiric”, and “The Mouth Which Cannot Speak” that shows just how varied the group’s songwriting can be, despite that overarching feeling of the album just blasting past you. All three fit the Cognizance blueprint of being riff-packed mudslides, yet the way they play around the edges of that well-established blueprint keeps each song interesting – especially in the case of “The Mouth Which Cannot Speak”, which plays off of “Oneiric” and its lightly dissonant sensibilities to close out with a heavy and crushing riff of its own. Those two tracks feel like siblings at times, the way both have these gigantic closing sections after an initial tech-assault, it’s just that the endings follow differing paths while they both tumble toward their conclusions and — as is the case with much of Upheaval — right into the next song.
“Decaying Gods”, on the other hand, hints at a bit of prog-death influence and foreshadows the upcoming two-part “Syntheticus” adventure. Most of the songs on Upheaval basically start at the band’s preferred high-speed tempo but “Decaying Gods” works its way there, wandering down a few different paths before finally landing us at the Cognizance red-meat of rapid-fire vocals and percussive rhythm work that sees much of the song-writing tying itself up with the drumming.
You’ll see a lot of professional bands referred to as being ‘tight’ in how they perform. There’s no sloppiness, no weird reverb or feedback, no accidents of any sort. They’re surgical and practiced to the point of being mechnical, and execute near flawlessly every time. Cognizance write like that, all the ugly parts burned off and everything left existing with a purpose and delivered so precisely that it’s like watching a machine in motion.
Upheaval, like its predecessor, is jammed full of percussive riff-writing and rapid-fire everything else, and with Cognizance achieving that mark early on within “Hymns”, the disc – as mentioned several times before – just flies by and can loop constantly before you notice just how many times the crew have blurred past you. The predecessor, Malignant Dominion, did the same sort of thing. The that Upheaval feels like they somehow found things to trim from that and still have Upheaval weigh in at four minutes longer is a surprise.
Both of the albums combined makes for an interesting evolutionary chart where you get to observe what two years can do to a band that was already pretty relentless after their handful of demos and EPs. Upheaval works well within Cognizance’s formula and is bound to be an album that will have different discoveries for people who break out each one of the songs and dissect them for a very long time… or you can just let the whole thing run and continually get mowed over. Either option is very enjoyable.