Leeds tech death supremos, Cognizance, might be the best rhythmic band in the underground. To hear a song from them is to marvel at the exquisite musicianship and thoughtful intricacies of their instrumentation. They’re also smart enough to keep their albums to a sensible half-an-hour running time, so why do they leave this reviewer frustrated when the last note fades away?
Now on their second LP following 2019’s Malignant Voice, the Yorkshiremen come out of the traps like testosterone-injected greyhounds on ‘Hymns’ and leave you no time to blink before you can catch your breath at the end of ‘Drifting (R)evolution’. The former is equal to Psycroptic in its finesse and rapid execution; the latter is just as aggressive in the way the guitars use the speed of the drums to fret all manner of dissonant arpeggio shapes that you’d expect to hear on a Revocation record. Listen to the barrage of sixteenth notes on ‘Decaying Gods’ and try not to let your mouth gape. You can only imagine the difficulties of maintaining such a complex piece of musical timekeeping with two virtuoso guitars and Henry Pryce’s low guttural roars competing for dominance in the mix.
Cognizance can play, but they show in the first half of Upheaval that they can be relentless in their determination to keep you on edge. ‘Oneiric’ will remind you of Wes Hauch’s expert use of ninth chords on the latest Alluvial album, and ‘The Mouth Which Cannot Speak’ is like At The Gates performing Slaughter of the Soul with King Crimson replacing the iconic Iron Maiden parts. Seldom do they rely on the low-end chug of the lower strings or the open palm-mutes on this record. Indeed, the legacy of modern Pestilence and early Cynic stands out as a defining feature here. Alex Baillie and Paul Yage sound like they might upend their strings on ‘Forbidden Alchemy’. This is how you attack your guitar with the most vicious of alt-picking techniques.
You may have noticed, though, that most of the analysis of this record centres around the guitars and drums. That’s because Upheaval is a musicians’ record, and one that succumbs to the inevitable pitfall of shred over substance by the time we reach the last stretch. ‘Syntheticus II – Atrophy’ and ‘Syntheticus II – Refuge’ disappear under the weight of their own trickery no matter how many times you play them in succession. Using every fret on the guitar neck might impress your fellow musicians, but here it proves lethal to your goodwill and patience when you allow your mind to wander for more than three seconds. Then it becomes one long morass of complexity, like a crossword puzzle that fails to hold your attention as your eyes begin to flicker on the train home from work.
Cognizance have the ideas and the ability to execute them, but they forget one crucial ingredient of death metal – intensity. The first half has adrenaline in abundance, but at no point does the music subjugate you, like any extreme metal album should do. Maybe harsher screams or a wider variation in dynamics would help to deliver a livelier experience for the last four songs of the album. Only ‘Aeon Sickness’ matches the awesome impact of the first five cuts, and it’s enough to pull Cognizance back from the brink of tedium after such a promising start.
If there’s one band suited to a future in progressive or experimental metal, it’s these boys. Upheaval is a decent record, but it will not catapult them to the next level. Musicians as gifted as this should challenge themselves to do more than just shred.
Release Date: 24/09/2021
Record Label: Prosthetic Records
Standout tracks: Drifting (R)evolution, The Mouth Which Cannot Speak, Aeon Sickness
Suggested Further Listening: Pestilence – Exitivm (2021), Psycroptic – As the Kingdom Drowns (2018), Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm (2021)