I guarantee you the guys from Soen have to brace themselves for every review they’re going to read for two reasons. The first of these is that this band contains Steve DiGiorgio, heavy metal’s best bassist and best fretless for hire and oh, right, Martin Lopez who we last saw as a member of Opeth. I have to say that I’m partial to these two guys as musicians (nothing against Ax, but Lopez is a special drummer) and so when I heard that this record was coming out I did some begging and got me a copy for review.
Apparently there are other musicians in this band, but we don’t actually care The rest of the band is made up of by two Swedish guys, the vocalist Eklöf and Platsbarzdis, the guitarist, for what is a four piece of alternative or kind of groovy progressive metal. Not progressive like Opeth or Vintersorg or Porcupine Tree but progressive like Tool. And by that I mean, they sound exactly like fucking Tool (that’s the second reason).
It is undeniable, no matter how much one wants it to be, that this is a band that just simply sounds like Tool. You gotta get that out of the way. This Joel Eklöf sounds a lot like Maynard (though his accent totally reminds me of Åkerfeldt, whose accent I’d never thought about before). And frankly, the guitar work and the writing reminds me of Ænima and Lateralus a lot. There’s a lilt to the guitars and a slow groove to the bass. The fretless bass differentiates it a bit, but the tone and the production is really similar. And, frankly, Lopez is the kind of drummer who can also pull off Danny Carey’s tribal style as a backup but of course still have his own style. He does this deftly and some of the most enjoyable parts of this album are performed on the drums and percussion which are outstanding.
So it’s with a bit of cognitive dissonance that I rate this as highly as I do, but sometimes you cannot deny good songs. And, well, these guys write some great fucking songs. There’s the groove stuff straight up Tool worship like “Savia” and “Fraccions” which has a guitar part that is totally a “Schism” rip off. There’s the parts where they really break out the heavy end, not super often but it does happen like the life alterningly crushing riff from “Slither” after the acoustic breakdown or the beginning of “Oscillation” (or on “Canvas”). And then there’s Eklöf’s vocal proclivities. While he undeniably sounds like Maynard, one of the things that he does amazingly well is melody and harmonies. The end of the aforementioned “Fraccions” has some of the most heart-breakingly beautiful harmonies I’ve heard on a record and they’re simply amazing. The following track “Dalenda” has a chorus where, again, he shows off these harmonies and by the time I made it to the next track down the line “Last Light” and he broke ’em out again, I was pretty much convinced.
In fact, it is the vocals that take this record from pretty good to great (or maybe even excellent). The songs are well-constructed, but highly derivative. And while the vocals are veeery Maynard, Eklöf’s performance and harmonies are the glue that hold all of this together. Unfortunately, the lyrics seem like they’re a little on the not-so-interesting side which is a shame. Instead of ripping off Tool‘s schtick and writing about philosophy and high-minded mumbo jumbo, they mainly seem to be writing about drugs. I might be wrong, but no one gave me any lyrics to check it out, so there you be.
In its totality, though, Cognitive is a pretty damn great record. While it is too derivative and it’s too easy to point out the source they’re plagiarizing (creativity is just well-disguised plagiarism, or like we used to say in my old band “People think we sound original because we rip off Amon Amarth, Ulver and Iron Maiden all at once!”), and so it’s hard for me to give this a higher score because of what I see as a lack of originality, there is an x factor here that bands that are just ripping someone else off simply do not have. The songwriting is great and it is a testament to Eklöf’s performance that I focused on him in a band where he’s playing with Martin Lopez and Steve DiGiorgio. So check this out and don’t write it off when you say “Oh, man, this sounds like Tool.” Give it some time and maybe the dissonance will give way and lead to bliss instead.