Sound — 9
"Cognitive" marks the long awaited return of ex-Opeth sticks man Martin Lopez after unfortunate circumstances caused to him to leave his former band, teaming up with legendary fretless bass player Steve DiGiorgio and two relatively unknown but still remarkably talented musicians in vocalist Joel Ekelof and guitar player Kim Platbarzdis.
Perhaps it's the long absence of prog legends Tool (whose recording hiatus now stretches past 6 years and Soen's music closely resembles) that has left a sizable void in the metal and progressive music scenes currently flooded by purveyors of the popular djent sub-genre, but with "Cognitive" Soen have rectified this, crafting arguably the best collection of organic sounding progressive music within the alternative metal stylings of Tool since "10,000 Days", or even "Lateralus". Make no mistake, however, as Soen are a unique creative force in their own right, even if they wear their influences on their sleeve a great deal throughout "Cognitive".
On to the album itself, brief opening track "Fraktal" sets the tone for most of the album, Steve DiGiorgio's sonically manipulated fretless bass lines occupying plenty of space within the stereo spectrum, weaving around the ethereal vocals of vocalist Joel Ekelof. The guitars of Kim Platbarzdis are not introduced until second track "Fraccions", but boy do they impress. Listening to how Kim's guitar & DiGiorgio's bass interact throughout this track, and indeed most other songs on "Cognitive" is impressive on it's own (lead single "Savia" and the grinding rhythms of "Oscillation" immediately come to mind), but augment this with the intense drum performance of the seemingly reborn Martin Lopez (add in some excellently executed hand percussion) and you have one hell of a band.
The instrumental prowess of each of the members aside, the thing that ultimately makes "Cognitive" a success is the high caliber of songwriting from beginning to end, a triumph in rhythmic and melodic interplay between all instrumentalists and vocalist Joel Ekelof.
Lyrics — 9
Stepping aside from the instrumental prowess on display by all three instrumentalists, and one has to admire the vocal performance turned in by Joel Ekelof. Relatively unknown by the vast majority of the metal community, his so-Maynard-James-Keenan-sounding-it-isn't-funny vocals are a standout throughout "Cognitive", at times even channeling a style of delivery somewhat akin to Martin Lopez's former band mate and metal legend Mikael Akerfeldt. Aside from the aforementioned influences, his phrasing and talent for vocal harmonies throughout is definitely unique for any metal band; just listen to the genuinely awe-inspiring a cappella ending to "Fraccions".
Lyrical topics on "Cognitive", like much of the music, takes obvious inspiration from the lyrical observations of Maynard James Keenan and his work in Tool and A Perfect Circle, but nonetheless show great ability to convey imagery and are a perfect fit the music and vocal delivery.
Overall Impression — 9
With "Cognitive", Soen have set the bar high for themselves as anticipation for a follow up album showcasing more of their unique style starts to build. In the mean time, though, "Cognitive" is a brilliantly executed album and is sure to stand up to repeated listening for a long time to come.