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Soen - "Cognitive" (CD)

Soen - "Cognitive" CD cover image

"Cognitive" track listing:

1. Fraktal
2. Fraccions
3. Delenda
4. Last Light
5. Oscillation
6. Canvas
7. Ideate
8. Purpose
9. Slithering
10. Savia

Reviewed by on May 16, 2013

"'Cognitive' can be seen as the best album Tool never wrote."

The point in a relationship where the sex escalates as two partners have found their rhythm -- when your partner will "do the weird stuff" -- is where it gets interesting. Dynamics are more pronounced, character is revealed on a deeper level, and a higher level of fulfillment is obtained. At the present point in Tool's career, one could say, metaphorically, that the band had done "the weird stuff" all along, except for when viewed in context with Soen's "Cognitive." Soen IS the weird stuff that Tool won't do, and since Tool's taken 7 years to put out a new album, "Cognitive" can be seen as the best album Tool never wrote.

The mouthpiece for Soen, Willowtree vocalist Joel Ekelöf, is a near-match for Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan in respect to his range, enunciation, and staggered vocal delivery. That's not to say that he lacks individuality, but it's quite obvious whose voice he studied in order to better shape his own. His talent for stacking vocal harmonies into intricate chord changes is especially evident on "Delenda," "Savia," and "Oscillation," while his lyrical prowess and vocal dynamic show themselves on tracks like "Last Light" and "Canvas," the latter of which artfully calls the listener to rise above restriction and false paths in life.

The backbone of Soen, ex-Opeth drummer and percussionist Martin Lopez, is the X factor in the sound, and is given his largest sound space on record on "Cognitive" in the history of his recordings. In "Fraccions," Lopez effortlessly glides over polyrhythms with tasteful cymbal and snare flourishes. Further on, in the syncopated "Oscillation," he shows that his feet can be just as dynamic as his hands. In most respects, Lopez's playing soars above his previous material with Opeth and even hints that he had restrained himself on prior recordings, which is damn near unthinkable when the skill level of that material is taken into account.

The hands of Soen, guitarist Kim Platbarzdis and seasoned bassist Steve DiGiorgio, provide counterpoints and add more unique character to the sound. DiGiorgio's thick fretless bass sound is ever-present and his lines recall his material with Vintersorg and Death moreso than his other recordings. His use of slap and finger-plucked bass lends an emphatic push to songs like "Oscillation," "Delenda," and "Purpose." Platbarzdis's guitar obeys Lopez's rhythms while claiming a thick and full tone that smacks of single coil pickups and humbucker blends.

The first body of work put out by the collective body of Soen is truly admirable and respectable for its willingness to go further in one direction than Tool ever thought of going. More differentiation is needed for the band to really push the envelope of the genres involved, but it's a huge debut when put into context with the releases of bands that started in just 2010. Moreover, the mix (by engineer David Bottrill) is full of natural tones and simply beautiful. "Cognitive" feels like its focus was to imitate and elevate a style, but opens the door for the band to really innovate with the next record.

Highs: "Canvas," "Savia," "Delenda."

Lows: There are few memorable lines or passages on the album.

Bottom line: An unchained melodic prog debut by a "supergroup" of metal alums.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)