Cognos – Cognos Review

I enjoy a pretty wide array of styles, genres and moods when it comes to music. I love small and personal, I love straightforward fun, I love morose darkness and I love epic grandeur. I may love them all equally, or have strong preference depending on my mood, the time of day and current weather conditions. But on average, it’s the epic grandeur that oftentimes manages to eke out the Record o’ the Year award when December rolls in like a snowstorm.1 Music that sounds like it is all-important and all-encompassing just strikes a chord with me, transporting me beyond the mundane and into a cosmic realm of endless possibilities.2 Cognos’ self-titled debut taps into such omnipresence, which is why it caught my eye, but are the aforementioned chords struck or is there naught but dissonance ahead?

Even bombastic grandeur comes in many flavors, and Cognos have chosen an interdimensional flavored adaptation of Arcturus’ sound, but trading in some of the more avant-garde elements for a clearer prog death slant, mixing growls and cleans in an even split. The growls are particularly good, deep and nasty with a pleasantly slavering enunciation. The cleans are more difficult to love, though, with a timbre unusual for this style that brings to mind Deftones rather than Garm. The anonymous vocalist3 makes up for the odd stylistic fit with a palpable passion in his delivery, though, and he’s certainly a recognizable feature.

But as I sit here listening to Cognos, I am struck once more by the inherent subjectiveness of the musical experience. Because while it’s competent in all objective metrics, it makes me feel absolutely nothing. It doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t make me sad or angry, either. I don’t feel transported, creeped out, amazed, or even disgusted or offended. It’s all just… there. It exists. It’s clearly the result of a lot of effort and ambition, and occasional moments cause minor stirs in my soul, like opener “Orb” or the clear standout “Plenary Void,” but these are unfortunately exceptions rather than the rule.

There’s not one definitive reason I can give for this lack of engagement. Most of the time I spent spinning Cognos I kept checking in with myself as to why I don’t like this more, and every time I had to press myself to pinpoint some reason. The most obvious is the lack of strong hooks. The riffs are largely lackluster, leaving all the memorable melodies to the vocals. The growls are strong, but they’re not the best vehicle to hang a hook on, and I remain ambivalent about the clean vocals, so there is certainly a sense of ear-to-ear wormhole passage to the music. Furthermore, the tracks lack clear structure and direction. There can be a charm to stream-of-consciousness writing depending on the type of music, but Cognos is clearly written with a journey in mind; just not one where all the stops, nor the destination, are equally clear. Just check the second half of the embedded: a quiet midsection seems to point to a slow build, which is interrupted by a sudden crash and growl, which crossfades into a new buildup, which continues into a baffling fade-out. It’s 3 false starts in a 3-minute span, and the record is littered with such detours and cul-de-sacs.

This review is very late, as you may have noticed. It is such because it has been so very frustrating. I have been walking in a maze. I admired the horticulture of the hedges, the various sculptures along its path, and the hidden features I’ve found hither and dither. But rather than leading me on an exciting journey with a satisfying finish, Cognos has me stumbling and meandering blindly, running into the same dead ends a dozen times before finishing unceremoniously. I wanted to love you as I have loved The Thirteenth Sun and Iotunn before you, Cognos. But it was not meant to be this year.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Willowtip Records
Releases Worldwide: October 22nd, 2021

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Not that those are common anymore in my country. Thanks, Al Gore!
  2. Endless possibilities may include eldritch horrors that induce catatonic insanity.
  3. In fact, the whole band is so anonymous they even keep their country of origin a secret.
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