The 2015 action RPG Bloodborne is one of my favorite video games of all time. Between its intricate and satisfying combat mechanics, impeccable art and sound design, and engrossingly atmospheric setting and world building, it feels like the genre at its peak. In fact, I’m suspending a third playthrough just to write this review. The subject of said review, Kosm, may never have been today’s topic of discussion were it not for a shared affinity for Bloodborne. Sludge is one of my least favorite metal subgenres as far as those unsaddled with a -core suffix goes, so if there’s anything that could successfully pull me in, it’s the promise of a darkly cosmic take on an overtly masculine aesthetic. This promise is handily fulfilled; Cosmonaut is an intoxicating, tightly executed debut that’s a joy to get lost in, even if its sheer mass makes for occasionally frustrating navigation.
Kosm market themselves as a sort of cross between Mastodon and Tool, and between the burly power chord progressions and dark undercurrents of hammer-on riffs, this seems like a wholly appropriate comparison. Perhaps the band isn’t proggy enough to be dubbed henceforth as “Mathstadon,” but an over-reliance on rhythmic acrobatics may have very well ruined Kosm‘s weighty, catchy grooves. These grooves, laced with a fun sense of fretboard exploration, create the feeling of flow with a tangible gravitational pull that practically demands repeat listens. This flow is intact whether the band engages with pummeling rhythms (“Space Mead”) or jazzy experimentation (“Monarch,” “Umbrakinesis”), making for a notably diverse record that never feels unnecessarily tangential. As a result, Cosmonaut‘s focus is admirably sharp, especially for a debut record with an enormous runtime of nearly seventy minutes.
Though much of Cosmonaut is pretty fantastic even for a sludge non-fan like me, its bloated length drags down its impact and makes it somewhat less recommendable. Its first three and final three tracks (plus midpoint highlights “Farseer” and “Fiefdom in the Sky”) offer a substantial spread of the moodiest, most engaging material this has to offer, but everything else feels somewhat pedestrian in comparison. In these lesser cuts, the rhythms feel more predictable, the melodies less magical, and the atmosphere less thick; they aren’t bad by any means, but the extended stretch of mild disappointment bars Kosm from executing a truly great debut. It should be noted that cutting out the tracks that feel extraneous would re-clock Cosmonaut at almost exactly forty five minutes, thus validating one of Angry Metal Guy‘s most consistently reliable rules.
Even in the weaker tracks, Cosmonaut is still carried handily by vocalist Jessie Grace. Her performance reminds me of Lör’s Tyler Fedeli; not so much in timbre, but rather in the way that she is able to deliver engaging, passionate vocals at the current peak of her ability, even if if her delivery is a bit rough around the edges. The production, handled entirely by the band members, ensures that Kosm’s debut listening experience is similarly pleasurable. While the skins and bass guitar could stand to be heightened, Cosmonaut is generally well mixed, with the record’s most essential elements – namely, Grace’s vox and the smooth-as-butter guitar work of axemen Mike Slater and Erik Leonhard standing strong.
Cosmonaut is one of those records that I hate slapping a numbered rating on. Much of the album falls squarely into 3.5 and even 4.0 territory, with its smartest and most immersive compositions acting as diamond-encrusted bookends; all that really drags it down is a somewhat underwhelming middle act. Yet Kosm has nailed down an undeniably addictive formula with this debut, and as I’m continuously pulled back into its accessible dichotomy of spacey prog and brawny sludge, I’m hopeful that even my least favorite tracks will grow on me. In any case, I’m eager to see what’s next for Kosm, as such a dynamic sound should have boundless room to grow on future outings.