Review Summary: While not terribly original, Soen shows they have the chops to more than make up for it.
I'm pretty excited to review Cognitive because it is the debut of a new band named Soen. It's got a couple big names in it, one of them being Martin Lopez of Opeth (Drummer for the albums My Arms, Your Hearse through Ghost Reveries). The other is Steve DiGiorgio, ex-bassist of Testament and Death.
My first thoughts upon seeing the album artwork were "Wow, that looks like a Tool record." The whole 'Human-body-as-a-machine-inhabited-by-cranial-fetuses' thing is a trademark of there's. Upon spinning the record though, I noticed the similarities did not stop there.
In fact, the first two tracks on the album, Fraktal and Fraccions, are hilariously similar to Tool. Everything from the winding basslines and methodic tempo, to the ride cymbal double taps and double bass bursts at the end of the measures makes me wonder if I'm listening to some abstract interpretation of Schism or Vicarious.
However, as the album continues on, Soen manages to distance itself from it's obvious influence. Last Light sounds more like Riverside than anything else, with its contemplative yet somber vocals and excellent use of ambiance. My favorite track, Oscillation, possesses the most obvious distinction with it's opening riffs that sound like a breakdown from some groove metal act. Ethnic drumming brings that same rhythm along to the verse spectacularly well, creating an entirely different feel with the same sequence of sounds. The band shows off their metal chops in the bridge section with some galloping polymeter and quick strumming.
That's probably Soen's greatest strength is how well they all lock in together rhythmically. Drummer Martin Lopez shows he can play a variety of tribal and traditional styles (although I still prefer the jazzy feel he opted for in Opeth), and as always demonstrates incredible use of his left foot, opening and closing the hi-hat and using double bass accents all over the record to great effect. The bassist, DiGiorgio, steals the show though, groovin' it hard and even carrying the melody at some points. He manages to cover a wide variety of tones, keeping things fresh, and stands out in the mix in the best possible way. Match that up with synergistic guitar playing and you have incredible musicianship that still remains accessible.
However, the vocals are unfortunately quite limited. Not in volume, (Unlike Pain of Salvation, they made sure the vox levels are mixed right) but in dynamics. Joel Eklof pulls off the solemn feel well, but can't help but come off as one-trick pony. He's not a bad singer, it's just I wish he'd get angry or show some degree of emotional spectrum on the album. The result is quite a few missed opportunities that really could have put this record into the "awesome" category for me.
All in all, Cognitive is a pretty solid debut album. What it's lacking in originality it makes up for in musicianship for sure. If you can resist the reflexive urge to yell "OMG TEWL CLONE" at the top of your voice and/or lose control of your bowels in a fit of music nerd ragedom, then you'll probably be able to chill out and enjoy the work as a cohesive and effective prog effort. Until then, go find some Youtube/Last.fm comment boxes to defile.
I give Cognitive 3.5 Pieces I Know That Fit out of 5.