Written by Kep
Cognitive – Malevolent Thoughts of a Hastened Extinction
Technical death metal from New Jersey, USA
Releasing July 16 via Unique Leader Records
Techdeath has long been my favorite of the death metal subgenres. There’s something about the in-your-face aggression combined with the finesse of rhythmic trickery and masterful technique that just hits my ears the right way. The problem, though, is that the space is distinctly oversaturated in the grand scheme of metal. You can’t throw a guitar pick without hitting a new technical outfit square in the chops. There are whole labels (*glances sideways at The Artisan Era*) that seem to be dedicated to cranking out tech act after tech act. It’s a hard scene to stand out in, is my point.
Enter Cognitive, a New Jersey-based five-piece that’s doing everything it can to make a splash in a sea of similar and—quite frankly—mediocre bands. Malevolent Thoughts of a Hastened Extinction is their fourth full-length effort and third with Unique Leader Records, who are another one of those labels that produces a ton of techdeath acts. So does the album deliver? I’m happy to report that it very much does, and some of its tracks are impressive for different reasons than you might think.
The musical hallmarks of techdeath are all here, and they’re performed extremely well. Harry Lannon and Rob Wharton are the guitarists, with Lannon handling leads, and their playing features plenty of fretboard acrobatics, rhythmic shifts, and on-a-dime directional changes. The cool thing, though, is that nothing feels extraneous, and it doesn’t sound like the parts are tricky just for difficulty’s sake. I’m particularly impressed by Lannon’s solos and his sense for writing passages that have a soul—it’s not just empty technique on display. Bass duty is covered by Tyler Capone-Vitale, and he’s superb, handling a lot of speedy, complicated stuff. The occasions where he doubles the guitars to up the heavy factor of brutal passages are fabulous. Shane Jost’s vocals are seething and intense, and he uses an impressive range of effects; again I feel like his performance shows real heart, not the hollow violence that you often hear. Finally, AJ Viana, also of the mighty Hath, puts on a clinic behind the drumset. He’s extremely precise, his sound is weighty but doesn’t weight the band down, and he has an exceptional feel for when to keep things relatively straightforward and when to get a little crazy.
So what is it that Cognitive does that sets them apart? For one, they blend a whole slew of stylistic influences into their songs. Make no mistake, Malevolent Thoughts is a techdeath record through and through, but there are little flashes and touches of all sorts of things that keep the tracks interesting and fresh. For example, there’s a nasty slam a little over two minutes into “The Maw” that absolutely crushes, and it’s not the only one on this record. “From the Depths” is an excellent showcase of some of the band’s blackened touches, with Jost’s high screams on fully display several times. “Arterial Red” features some riffwork that’s reminiscent of—and I swear this is a compliment—djent. “Oroborous” alternates between intense tech riffing complete with dissonant twisting guitar lines and heavy as hell deathcore-esque passages. Looking for something brutal with a straight up beat in 4 that you can mosh to? The second half of “To Feed the Worms” has got you covered, after the groovy, whiplash-inducing opening section gets you prepped. Lannon and Wharton aren’t afraid to step away from the technical badassery and scratch your itch for chug, and when they do it’s highly effective.
Cognitive also periodically backs the aggression down a notch or two (not too far, don’t worry) and writes a song or two that gets a bit more emotional than you might expect. “Malevolent Thoughts” is one of these, speaking and generally looking in an inward direction, with Jost’s scream of “I don’t want to feel like this anymore” providing a highlight that segues into an excellent expressive guitar solo. But it’s the slow-paced “Destitute” that drops the aggression a couple more notches, its transparently personal examination of genuinely trying and having nothing to show for it landing in an unexpectedly emotional way. It reminds me a little of last year’s concept-based Mordrake by Xenobiotic, or maybe a better comparison is the song “Forsaken” by Necropia—an introspective interval that makes a huge impression in an album of mostly hostile, vicious tracks. There’s another emotive solo, and it’s not like it’s a ballad or anything, but there are even some smartly executed clean vocals!
Recording and mixing, which began with a few already written tracks pre-pandemic and went through a lengthy pause before being finished this year, was handled by the band’s drummer, AJ Viana. If you’ve heard Of Rot and Ruin, the amazing 2019 effort from his other band Hath, then you’re already familiar with his work on the recording/mixing front, and you’ll know it’s outstanding. (As a sidebar, Viana has a done several streams on Hath’s Twitch channel where he walked through his mixing processes, and it’s great stuff that you should watch.) Malevolent Thoughts is another example of his impressive abilities behind the board and at the computer, because it sounds fantastic—the balance is great and all elements sound authentic with a sense of presence. Mastering was by Alan Douches of West West Side Music, whose consistently great work you’ve heard on about a billion other albums (including, again, Of Rot and Ruin).
Don’t miss this effort from Cognitive when it drops on July 16 via Unique Leader Records. Malevolent Thoughts of a Hastened Extinction is a massive, exceptional tower of sonic power that shows what technical death metal can be in the hands of not just great musicians, but great songwriters.
Favorite track: To Feed the Worms