Review Summary: Worth the strain.
It’s taken me a while to write this review, not because I don’t know what to say, but because I don’t really know how I feel
about Cognizance’s sophomore release. The group’s debut, Malignant Dominion
had some promise, an album full of direction and purpose—but it lacked a sense of identity, falling (if unintentionally) into the category of genericism. That sounds a lot harsher in print than the warm sentiments I’m trying to portray. You see, while Malignant Dominion
shared enough traits with modern death metal’s recent alumni (Vale of Pnath, Virvum or First Fragment for example), the album itself contained some of 2019s better takes on the genre. In many ways Upheaval
continues where the debut left off and this time around I’m a little more convinced that this burly, lurching display of musical chops will continue to grow as Cognizance continue to flex their death metal muscle.
Even as I lay down the hefty proclamation above I need to admit that the gravity of Upheaval
wasn’t immediate. My initial listens left behind feelings of competency, wrapped in a deluxe package of whirling riffs and burly, low-end death metal. Akin to the Cannibal Corpse type meat-headedness that benefits from a higher sense of technicality. Largely, Upheaval
while unloading huge swathes of technical progression and flowed to the nth degree. That was the crux and it clicked. Flow. Suddenly Cognizance’s debut full-length hit home. The introductory blasting of “Hymns” hit short and sharp, its two minute (plus) run time took a sledgehammer to the walls of my subjective expectation while introducing melody in just enough measure to make a listener start ‘thinking’ about what they’re listening to. By the time the one-two punch of “Drifting (R)evolution” and “Decaying Gods” saunter in, musical cohesion is already well in place. If I can circle back...it’s like Cognizance overstuffed the meat-mincer, but remembered to lace the mix with gold flakes. Not only did the mincer keep up, but Upheaval
is a tasty sausage—prime for digestion.
As we enter the album’s mid-section, tracks like “The Mouth Which Cannot Speak” continue to provide dizzying musicianship, centred around the track’s (and album’s) larger use of melodic chops. Not afraid to throw caution to the wind, the song itself features one of the year’s better guitar solos in the genre. Despite the flashiness and the overall flamboyance of that section, it’s not overdone, making way for the continuance of proficient, yet lumbering riffs. Even the two-part, “Syntheticus” has a air of completeness, despite being in such a compact and efficient album. At just over half an hour, its formula isn’t new by any means (here or anywhere else), but I’ll be damned if that isn’t one of the most satisfying selection of riffs and melody to hit the death metal genre this year. “Refuge” continues to provide Cognizance’s wholesome take on modern death metal. As you would expect it bears a similar bearing to its counterpart track, but it’s become more angular, focused and bludgeoning. Cognizance gives brutality its place; front and centre on this summary of modern death metal.
At thirty-three minutes Upheaval
may not have the glorified chops of some of the year’s better releases, but fundamentally it’s not that far away. Cognizance’s sophomore album is a racing example of where death metal can take its influences and lurching soundscapes. As a whole, Upheaval
has one foot squarely planted in the very real influences of death metal’s forebears while diving head first into the type of music modernism that’s very much in reach for the group with the reach to grasp it.