rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Ceremonial Vigour
02. A Brain Dead Memoir
03. Chiselled In Stone
04. Introspection
05. Futureless Horizon
06. The Towering Monument
07. Alferov
08. Shock Heuristics
09. Broadcast Of The Gods
10. In Verses Unspoken
11. Shadowgraph

With the kind of devastating virtuoso chops that lesser mortals would cheerfully kill for, there is always a danger that making music can be an exercise in technique alone. Technical death metal has certainly been guilty of disappearing up its own fundament from time to time, but when COGNIZANCE are hammering away at full pelt, cynicism is futile. Although they are undoubted badasses to a man (in fact, drummer David Diepold probably has "badass" on his passport),  this primarily English ensemble have forged their own path, elegantly weaving out-and-out shred worship and artful, melodic sensibilities into a reliable core of here-we-fucking-go death metal. Previous albums "Malignant Dominion" (2019) and "Upheaval" (2021) were both praised for their lean precision and disarming detours into melodic melancholy. "Phantazein" repeats every trick while expanding further out into the progressive shades that COGNIZANCE assimilate smoothly into their brutal, three-minute songs.

Once again, the sound of this band locked into some unfathomable groove is one of the great joys of modern death metal. Opener "Ceremonial Vigour" takes off like a rabid greyhound hurtling towards the abyss, with swirling blastbeats and grandiose mid-paced riffing. Significantly, this album's bone-dry production is distinctive and extremely cool. It renders every instrument in crisp and vivid clarity, but combines them to form a single, malicious block of sound, aimed squarely at the chest and always slightly faster and more furious than expected. Songs like the MORBID ANGEL-saluting "Introspection" and the evil melo-death of "The Towering Monument" are noticeably darker than anything on COGNIZANCE's first two albums, and even though they continue to mesmerize with their individual dexterity, it is a suffocating atmosphere of existential dread that makes "Phantazein" their most substantial and affecting work to date.

From "Shock Heuristics", with its high-spec, staccato riffing and hypnotic lurches into left field, to closer "Shadowgraph", which feels like a final blow-out at the end of a grueling sprint towards perfection, this is tech-death that thrives on a rich imagination and accepts the guiding hand of the old-school gods. An enigmatic force for good, COGNIZANCE have delivered their third outright ripper in a row, and no amount of technique can drown out the roar of the fire in their bellies.

Author: Dom Lawson
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