After just over a decade of existence, Leeds-based Cognizance are back with their third LP of core-adjacent tech death since and have made the jump over to Willowtip for this release. With heaps of demos and EPs as well as two full albums in their rear view, Cognizance have a lot of momentum behind them for the release of Phantazein which is an album with a conceptual theme that goes beyond the limitations set by the band before, exploring the intricate connections between art, obsession, and the profound impact of one's surroundings. With the additional emphasis on a thematic thread running through the album it's understandable that this played into the runtime making Phantazein their longest record by close to ten minutes.
Much like Blindfolded and Led to the Woods and Job For a Cowboy, Cognizance has pivoted more toward tech death and away from their deathcore beginnings and that move that is fully realized on Phantazein, even though some of the production choices hearken back to their earlier days. And by that I mean, this album sounds good thanks to the mixing and mastering by Ronnie Björnström who’s worked with Blood Red Throne, Aeon, and others in the past. This isn’t knuckle-dragging caveman metal, it has some polish and sheen to it that helps to highlight every little detail that these musicians have poured into this album. Now let’s get to some of the music.
Phantazein doesn’t begin with some sort of atmospheric intro track that sets the tone for what’s to follow, this record starts with a fury as “Ceremonial Vigour” clears the way for what will follow. Lilting riffs, snappy leads, and a tight rhythm section are the showcase for any band in this vein and Cognizance has all of these elements down, as one would expect from a veteran band on a vaunted label.
While it is important that these things are in place, plenty of bands are competent in these areas so the difference maker has to be the songwriting and flow of the album. How memorable is it? Does it elicit feelings at all? Does it lead to involuntary headbanging? All worthwhile questions when approaching tech death. For Cognizance, there’s plenty to love on all of these fronts.
With each of the tracks hovering around the four-minute mark, there is a pretty consistent pace as one song coalesces into the next. While it does present a consistent flow for Phantazein, a little more variance in the cadence of the tracks could have made this record a little more interesting if implemented correctly, but that’s only a small knock.
The dynamics of the album instead comes from contrasting moments in the songs and how that varies from one to the next. “Chiselled in Stone” for instance, has a furious ending with a nice little tom roll before “Introspection” follows with a little more space in the riffs allowing the vocals to take center stage. “Futureless Horizon” employs a brief dalliance with ambiance before “The Towering Monument” - one of the quicker tracks on the record - jumps headlong into some of the more technical moments that the album offers.
As the album closes there are more great moments, riffs, and ideas showcased with the closer “Shadowgraph” being one of the highlights of the record. If there is a complaint to lodge with the overall tone of the record it’s simply that it rarely strays to the edges or fringes of what I think this band could do in terms of extremity.
While there’s nothing at all wrong with their approach of finding the groove and riding it until the end, in the future I’d love to see them try something that pushes them into some more unhinged territory, I think they could pull it off with ease and it could set them apart in this ever growing, overcrowded genre.
With wishful thinking aside, Phantazein is for sure an early 2024 highlight in the genre and one that I could see many fans getting very attached to over the course of the year and the carousel of releases.
Bottom Line: Phantazein has the unenviable task of dropping on the biggest release day in a couple of months, but there is enough heft and meat in these songs to keep it cycling through headphones, turntables, and streams for months. This is by far Cognizance’s best album.