Review Summary: A highly derivative, yet impeccably executed progressive rock debut.
Sometimes it's enough to take a quick glimpse at the album cover to trace the style of the band. This is exactly the case with the new Swedish progressive rock outfit, Soen. Formed by Opeth's former drummer Martin Lopez along with guitarist Kim Platbarzdis back in 2005, Soen have released their debut disc only this year after recruiting singer Joel Eklof and bassist Steve DiGiorgio of Testament and Death fame. The artwork of Cognitive
aptly recalls Tool's magnum opus, Lateralus
, as both records share the same rhythmic sensibilities and harmony-oriented approach to vocals. In fact, Soen's debut disc sounds like a mellower, more accessible version of the aforementioned classic both abandoning some of Tool's potentially risky experimentation and putting a stronger emphasis on a sorrowful, contemplative tone which has its origin in art rock.
Even though Cognitive
is a highly derivative effort, Soen manage to make their music relevant or even eminently desirable for those who await the next Tool album with interest. Unlike copious clones, Soen are actually remarkably skilled musicians who have an uncanny knack for crafting arresting songs from familiar ingredients. Such tracks as “Delenda” and “Canvas” abound with adventurous progressions and flashy, yet hardly self-indulgent musicianship. The instruments are in full cooperation with one another, which results in an admirably technical, focused sound. Lopez's drumming is nothing short of amazing displaying both great precision and creativity in the use of tribal patterns. Bassist Steve DiGiorgio helps to maintain the hypnotic vibe with his exceptionally tuneful playing, while Kim Platbarzdis' guitar work ranges from airy, art-rock inspired passages to heavy-on-groove metallic sections in such songs as “Purpose” and “Slithering” that boast truly memorable leading riffs.
An immensely powerful musicianship is juxtaposed with entirely clean, dreamy vocals of Joel Eklof. His inclination to craft startling harmonies comes as commendable, yet his voice never reaches the intensity level of Maynard James Keenan. Another serious drawback of Eklof's performance is that his singing is not diverse enough to convey the plethora of musical moods being evoked. For instance, heavily syncopated sections of “Oscillation” could certainly use harsher, more dynamic vocal delivery. Aside from that, there isn't really much to complain given that Soen mostly steer clear of traditional song structures to make room for unexpected tempo shifts as well as multi-layered progressions.
finds Soen head and shoulders above their peers in terms of musicianship and song craft. Nonetheless, the album is devoid of any originality delivering a slightly watered-down take on the formula that made Tool so formidable. Soen's presentation is sufficiently powerful to label them as the best group that has ever tried to recapture the magic and aura of Tool. However, if they want to become fully credible, the subsequent releases of theirs will need to explore the individual voice of the band to a much greater extent.