Technical, melodic, and dynamic – with Phantazein, Cognizance continues their impressive streak of modern death metal releases.

Release date: January 26, 2024 | Willowtip | Bandcamp | Facebook

Over the course of its evolution, death metal has subdivided and reunited in so many ways as a set of subgenres. As such, simply calling something ‘death metal’ gives me a sense of its vocal style, guitar tones, and tempo, but very little else. Some bands carry on the legacy of thrash but take it darker, while others incorporate substantial neoclassical influences and take the genre to its technical limit. Others still create some of the most visceral and dissonant sounds they can conjure. On their third full-length, Phantazein, Cognizance continues moving their self-described ‘modern death metal’ into territory that is melodic, technical, thrashy, but, most importantly, original.

Phantazein follows 3 years after Cognizance’s sophomore release, Upheaval, and their 2019 full-length debut, Malignant Dominion. Compared to Phantazein, 2021’s Upheaval seems a bit more based on a thrash-oriented death metal style while honing a melodic, progressive edge that is even sharper on the new album.

The record opens with “Ceremonial Vigour” and immediately hits me with an even more muscular production from Cognizance than the album’s predecessor. The song flits from powerful riffs to some intricate yet melodic lead lines, perhaps slightly reining in the tempo to give the track what will surely be mosh-inducing grooves once the songs are played live. Elsewhere, the first single “The Towering Monument” masterfully meshes thrashy and groove-oriented sections together with memorable melodies that harken passing comparisons to Gojira’s earlier work. This melodic throughline is further developed with epic harmonized guitar lines. These harmonized leads are a favourite approach that regularly grabs my attention throughout the record, such as on “Chisselled in Stone”.

This attention to melody is further utilized on “A Brain Dead Memoir”, but not in the traditional way death metal incorporates this stylistic approach. The riffs are memorable and polyrhythmic while still using some of the occasionally classical melodic sense of their counterparts, creating a sound that feels familiar yet distinctly their own. Drummer David Diepold brings so much energy and versatility to this and other tracks throughout the album, moving from creative blasts to more traditional hardcore and thrashy drums in lockstep with Alex Baillie and Apostolis Karydis’s knotted, darting guitar lines. Diepold further establishes his creativity in the off-time polyrhythmic accents of “Introspection”.

“Shadowgraph” slows even further in its opening moments, pairing syncopated rhythms with earworm guitar leads and ambient sound design. However, it does not take long before Cognizance blasts off into their signature technical and rapid riffs. Just past the three-minute mark, the song gives us a neoclassical breakdown before moving into some astounding guitar leads and an epic finale to the record’s economical and energetic 41 minutes.

With Phantazein, Cognizance builds on the legacy of their earlier releases while catapulting their sound into even more varied and impressive territory. The production is bigger, the riffs are more memorable, the leads more intricate, and the rhythms move beyond their thrashy foundation into polyrhythmic grooves. The band has a unique voice in the genre that has become even more confident on their third release. 2024 is only beginning and time will tell what death metal has in store for us this year, but Cognizance has made me very excited for what the future of this band and genre holds.

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