Album Title: Phantazein
Label: Willowtip Records
Date of Release: 26 January 2024
I come to this review with little knowledge of Cognizance, other than they are a UK-based band that fits somewhere within the technical death metal spectrum, with more than a hint or two of deathcore. And it was the latter that admittedly had me considering whether or not I should give this record a go in the first place. But then I thought ‘be open-minded, Matt’. After all, last year, one of my favourite progressive metal albums heavily featured my arch nemesis, the alto saxophone. With that in mind, and because of the Willowtip record label connection – they rarely get it too wrong – I decided to try my luck and see what ‘Phantazein’, the third full-length release from Congizence was all about.
Comprised of vocalist Henry Price, guitarists Apostolis Karydis and Allex Baillie (who also offers vocals), bassist Chris Binns and drummer David Diepold, the Leeds quintet initially made a very positive impression, too. Opening track, ‘Ceremonial Vigour’ is a bit of a monster, kicking off with a meaty, groovy guitar riff that you simply can’t help but like; or at least, I can’t. Believe me, I’ve tried. From there, the pace picks up and the measured aggression, led by some really nice, sharp riffing that has more than a hint of modern melodeath about it, is matched by the energy in the rhythm section. Driven along by double-pedal drumming and powerful bass playing, the song is really infectious, especially in the clever changes in pace with the reprise of those chunkier riffs at certain points throughout. I also like the vocal delivery, as it’s that deep growl that carries weight and grit with it, whilst offering a little clarity so if you listen hard enough, you can make out the lyrics for the most part. ‘This isn’t half bad’, I say to no-one in particular, although the MuttOfMuchMetal does look at me quizzically as I voice my opinion.
The remainder of the record is perfectly fine, but for some reason, nothing really stands out in quite the same way. Within the ensuing ten tracks, there is plenty of sharp riffing, blistering drumming, expertly executed musicianship and for the most part, it thunders along making one hell of a decent racket in the process. But, for me, the Achilles heel of ‘Phantazein’ and for Cognizance as a band, is the fact that the opening song is most definitely this album’s finest moment. At least, it is in my humble opinion.
Perfectly adept and professional the music may be, but if truth be told, I have been unable to get through one full listen without having to go back and replay a couple of tracks, having realised that I have switched off and my mind has wandered a little. Wanting to give every album the fairest crack of the whip, I dutifully go back and replay the section that previously descended into the black hole beneath my consciousness. But the story is unfortunately the same. It’s not like ‘Phantazein’ is a long album, either, as it clocks in at around the 40-minute mark, meaning it really should keep my attention much better than it does.
Always wanting to focus on the positives wherever possible, it is very important to state that the production is excellent, with enough clarity and punch to provide the music every opportunity to make the biggest impact. In addition, I have no doubt that reviews elsewhere will be more positive given the technical abilities and quality of the band. It just fails to deliver a little for my personal tastes.
That all being said, there are a few moments littered throughout ‘Phantazein’ that are worthy of a mention. The riffs within ‘A Brain Dead Memoir’ are pretty cool, as is the subtle melodic undertone at points throughout the song. The absolutely behemoth double-pedal drumming at the death of ‘Introspection’ is a treat for the ears, as is the dark, sinister, and atmosphere-laden intro to the immediate follow-up, ‘Futureless Horizon’. I’m not such a huge fan of the main body of the song itself, but the darker tones, increased atmosphere, and hints of chaotic dissonance are sure to hit the spot for plenty of fans.
Continuing with the positive vibe, the second half of ‘The Towering Monument’ features a great lead guitar break that brings with it a touch more melody and memorability alongside. The dampened guitar notes and relentless blasts of drums are hard to ignore, too. ‘Shock Heuristics’ is a neat blend of groove, aggression, and understated melody, one of the higher peaks on the second half of the album.
When all is said and done, I think it’s fair to say that I find myself acknowledging the technical ability of Cognizance, and admiring their prowess more than I actually enjoy listening to the final product. When I’m engaged, I’m nodding along to the music and impressed by the tightness and execution. But, aside from the opener, I find it had to get attached, to remember much when the album finishes, and unlikely to return for repeated listens once I have completed my review. It’s good but I strongly believe it’s one for die-hard fans of the genre only. Nevertheless, give it a go, and decide for yourself.
The Score of Much Metal: 70%