Soen - Cognitive (Spinefarm Records)

One word: Abso-fucking-lutely-gorgeous
Release Date: 
16 Mar 2012 - 12:30am

Formed by Martin Lopez (Opeth/Amon Amarth) and guitarist Kim Platbarzdis in 2005, Soen’s debut album Cognitive is, simply put, bloody, bloody good.

Yes, it is reminiscent of Tool but who says that’s a bad thing? And seeing as it was produced by Dave Bottrill (of Tool, Smashing Pumpkins and Muse fame), you shouldn’t really be surprised that it does have that whiff of Maynard Keenan and Co. about it. Regardless, I’m so in to this album. The opening track Fraktal has its intro in reverse and is a bass and vocals number; it sets the scene for the following track Fraccions, and I’m very pleased to report that Soen are not afraid of the bass (it stands out as much as the guitars and in some cases is more prominent) and Lopez chucks in some lovely drum fills. The track isn’t overly heavy but coupled with the hypnotic guitar work, it’s a work of art for the ears. Joel Ekelof (Willowtree) has delivered some fine work on this album and managed to strike a gorgeous balance with his vocals; he’s stepped back when it’s needed and has gone absolutely mental where required. The song gets all groovy but the chunky guitars creep in too. Finishing on a beautiful choral outro of just vocals, the layering is a delight. It’s hats off to bassist Steve Di Giorgio (Sadus, Testament, Death to name a few) though – his playing is second to none, as demonstrated on Delenda, a track with a touch more grunt and bags of twanging bass riffs (it’s so good to hear the bass being played as an instrument; root notes are OK but this is something else). Midway through, the song slows right down and some fantastic harmonies caress my ears. Sexy to the power of eleven...

Speaking of sexy, Last Light opens with enticing bongos and is so laid back that I wanted the album to come with a fully loaded opium pipe and velvet cushions. The vocals fit perfectly into the ambience of the track with the snare and hi-hat cutting through the weaving bass and delicately placed harmonics. Too beautiful. It’s hard to describe without putting on my poets hat (and you really don't want that...) so I must insist you go and get a copy of Cognitive (plus some opium and velvet cushions too) and check it out for yourself. The production is so well balanced; it’s not over-produced but it’s not too raw either. Oscillation brings us out of our reverie with a punchy intro that drops back to minimalism and mellowness; I knew it was going to kick back in and it did but not in the way I was expecting - and that’s why I love (yes, love) this album. It surprised me in a good way. The spaces and pauses are integral to the music - It’s not too shiny, it’s not too polished – and then the grunt comes back in again yet the guitar never overwhelms the other instruments.

Canvas shows off that Tool element again (and possibly Man-Eating Tree?) and the sustained guitars and dischordant bass just seeps from the speakers. Where did I put that pipe? Every track just slips by in a moment. We get a bit more up tempo with Purpose; the album seems to  alternate between slow and fast tracks yet none of them are insanely heavy; ‘organic’ springs to mind. Slithering sweeps in and out like an ocean before building to a crescendo of biting riffs. The last two minutes of this song were incredible. This truly is the good shit, the ducks nuts, the dogs bollocks. No disrepsect to Ekelof's vocals but some of the tracks might have benefited from being purely instrumental; I would have liked to have seen where Soen would have taken them. Yet each track seems to be made up of separate elements that unite to make a beautiful ‘whole’ (please, no jokes about beautiful holes) and the final track Savia (which I believe is the first single?) is a fine example of how Soen have managed to balance the heaviness with the mellowness. Fucking gorgeous.