(DGR reviews the new album from Cognizance, out 26 January on Willowtip Records)
It wasn’t too long ago we were joking about how Cognizance were one of the better bands when it comes to the “riff-avalanche” style of album – the type of disc that generally picks one particular tempo and sticks to it, leaving the band room to just rattle off part-after-part-after-part atop the listener until, by the end of it, they’ve basically been buried underneath a pile of stuff.
It’s a difficult balance to strike because you can easily get lost in your own creativity and create big, overwhelming works that, by their very nature, are hard to maintain any interest in since everything is so ephemeral and fleeting.
And while Cognizance have remained a sleek and ultra-precise machine for over a decade since the release of their first full length – after having subsisted on a series of singles and EPs – they’ve also slowly hammered and forged their sound into something as fiercely creative and memorably groove-ridden as it is terrifyingly technically-proficient.
Their previous album, Upheaval, picked up where Malignant Dominion left off, and I’ll give you three guesses as to where Phantazein picks up as a starting point a little under two and a half years later.
“Fiercely creative” might seem like weird term to see applied to a band like Cognizance, but it’s certainly a fitting one, given that they have now put out three albums of this particular style yet have never given in to the temptation of just resting on their laurels.
Instead, they always seem to be finding new twists on their particular style of Tech-Death – while still sounding like an absolute hurricane of riffs – and Phantazein continues this trend such that, even with more music and more songs on offer then ever before, there’s rarely a moment to get bored within its bounds.
Phantazein opens strong with “Ceremonial Vigour” doing the difficult job of shocking people’s attention and also roping people in for another round with a band.
The – in a word likely to describe many a Cognizance song – intricate guitar riffing is highlighed by a sharpened groove that rears its head post first-verse and which could line up right alongside the best moments of songs like “Aeon Sickness” and “Strychnine Shift” from previous releases.
It’s a great opening statement and that momentum carries through the first few songs with “A Brain Dead Memoir” traveling a path of lengthier exploration and “Chiselled In Stone” combining the best of both of the songs before it – both heavier than you’d expect in the opening segment and then going for a headfirst dive down the cliffs of complication.
If you’ve ever wondered why it seems like every music video of the band has them standing ramrod-straight with little to no movement, you get the sense after the first four songs of Phantazein that this is becaise they know that these songs require them to be so precise that if they even slightly fall out of line the whole Cognizance machine is going to spin out of control and rotate itself to pieces.
We posted about both “The Towering Monument” and closing song “Shadowgraph” a few months ago, and at the time they seemed like unexpected choices to lead off Phantazein with, but heard within the greater context of the album they make more sense.
“The Towering Monument” is where Cognizance start to pull away from the hefty chug and constant forward momentum that they’re known for and eases people in to the oddly grandiose nature of ‘Futureless Horizon” – it’s a wonder what a prominent synth line forcing its way to the forefront of a song will do – whereas “Shadowgraph” closes out the album with a mid-tempo groove and fades in from “In Verses Unspoken” before it.
It at first seems like Cognizance are going to bounce their way out of the album but then you get one quick launch up the fretboard – where the guitarists use a rapid note transition like its the easiest thing in the world – and you’re back into the senses-scraping sandstorm of stuff once again (including a bass guitar which pushes all the way up to the front and forces the rest of the song along with it).
Sure, “Shadowgraph” is a surprising closer, but there’s also little deniability to the effect of a “Over/Out/Done/Sign Off” style ending where Cognizance just slam things through a wall and call it a game.
Look, we’ve gone on record as saying that late January is fucking stacked in terms of potentially killer releases this year, and that’s a trend that’s carrying over into February as well, and its a bit sobering to look at a release list and realize you have a good chance of having your year-end brigade be made up of a lot of releases from the first two months of the year.
But Cognizance make a hell of an early case to be a part of that with Phantazein.
It’s an ambitious album with plenty of music to dive into – Cognizance are practiced alchemists in how they continue to add things around the fringe of their sound and still somehow make it work, and much of Phantazein‘s excitement comes from hearing the band experiment and test how they can bend and twist something into their style.
Cognizance should be on wanted posters with how easily some of these riffs break into your head and wreck shop before kicking their feet up and sticking around for a while, making Phantazein a more than worthy addition to their overall discography which keeps the forge burning as brightly as ever even as the band keep on feeding and adding to their overall sound.