The Halloween period is here. Carve your pumpkins, bob your apples, egg your neighbors’ houses and listen to some horror-themed brutality. Hailing from Jobbstown, New Jersey, Cognitive play tech-death straight from the grave. Their debut Cognitive was a proficient mix of all things brutal in the modern scene while still retaining the muddy rawness and technical eccentricities of their nasty forefathers. With a new drummer, bassist, and guitarist — monstrous vocal shapeshifter Jorel Hart and lead-guitar necromancer Rob Wharton remain to cast their curses – can Cognitive’s sophomore album Deformity expand upon their 2014 debut, or are they destined to rot beneath the floorboards alongside the other dead souls of today’s scene?
Thankfully, Cognitive have the quality to be haunting the scene for a long time to come. Deformity is a thirty-minute assault that throws up all your typical tech/brutal-death tropes — slams, grooves, grinds, chugs, slaps, blasts — alongside atypical and rather bizarre touches that make Deformity an enticing listen. There’s a sumptuous variety riff-wise. The whooshing force of staccato riffing that surges through “Beneath the Floorboards” transitions smoothly into gut-punching slams; the laser-sharp tremolo leads in “Dead Soil” stab and thrust forward before progressing into a groove-licked technical passage that sings forth from the darkness. Dissonant riff-fragments rebound throughout, 90’s flavored grooves and transitions avalanche, and technical flourishes merged with largely interesting and well-placed slams make appearances throughout. Deformity is a 30-minute album with enough riffs if prolonged or spaced out, to fill an hour-long record. The argument may be made that too many riffs spoil the broth, however, Cognitve don’t make broth, they make 6000-calorie meat monstrosities that taste good no matter what.
For the most part, Deformity is full-throttled mayhem that storms ahead leaving bodies in its wake, yet on the odd occasion, it’ll demonstrate a curious quirk, a flash of eccentricity, by going back to the bodies, for example, and carving hieroglyphs into the faces of the dead. At 0.37 of “Haunted Justice,” following chuggalicious grooves, the lead guitar warps into strange-toned territories, spiraling off the music, a spirit responding to a summon. Shifts in guitar tone and tempo are common too. There’s a certain Atheist or Cynic vibe to the irregularities at times. At the mid-point of the album, during “The Forgotten,” the brutality cowers away as a beautifully atmospheric passage gallops forth with the elegance of a white stallion parading over a field of corpses. The thick and heady bass rings with regal pomp and the drumming expressively steadies as eerie guitar lines drift: placing this at the heart of the album works magnificently.
A variety of chugs and slams do make an appearance; they’re integrated well during “Birthing the Deformity” and “Haunted Justice” but as the album advances, such as mid-way through “Beneath the Floorboards” and “Wraiths,” I found myself impatiently waiting for the chugs to make way for the more eccentric technical flourishes. However, for the most part, Cognitive are not over-reliant on chugs and there’s enough here to keep you more than entertained.
The vocals, also, for the most part, are crushingly dense and teeming with primal rage. Vocalist Jorel Hart is high in the mix here so he has to do well, and well he does. His performance on “Birthing the Deformity” is a particular high-point. The entire song, in fact, is exceptional (and it’s ever so slightly detrimental to the album as a whole that the best two songs — “Haunted Justice” also — rage with such visceral energy so early in the album). Hart emanates vitriol: gutturals explode with the force of turbo-engines and groans, gargles, shrieks and snarls froth-forth like a lion on bath salts. His variety is commendable although, towards the end of “The Cull” for example, the vocals tend to drown-out rare moments of expressive and atmospheric subtlety; allowing the instrumentals more breathing room, especially during these interesting passages, would be better.
Deformity is unforgiving and unrelenting. Though production-wise it could be clearer, the drumming more measured and the slams toned down, for the most part, Cognitive’s approach to modern-day brutality is expertly done, merging the impressive parts of different sub-genres and eras into a horribly impressive concoction. Deformity does not have those truly awe-inspiring moments of classic albums, and it may not have longevity, however, it can proudly stand (though on tip-toes) next to Scepter of the Ancients and Monolith of Inhumanity on your record shelf.