Intention is important, especially when considering a genre artist. Genre tends to be defined by rules or tropes, and when evaluating a piece of work, one key question is how well the artist embraced the genre’s template and what they did within those confines. If they “colored outside the lines,” so to speak, were they aware that those lines existed or did they just stumble blindly? The other side of this coin is that artists are not always in the best position to evaluate their own output. There’s a reason that musician autobiographies often contribute less to an understanding of an artist’s contribution than something written by an impartial third party.

Such is the case with New Jersey’s Cognitive, who bill themselves as brutal technical death metal and whom their label, Unique Leader, describes as “thinking outside the box.” Tech death is a fairly ambitious genre and one in which the focus of the music is on, well, the technical nature of the performances. Listeners can expect the disorientation and whiplash that comes from multiple time signature changes and abrupt right turns. These are albums that aspire to invoke the current human condition: massive information overload. Cognitive’s recent release, Deformity, is not that album, as its strength comes from a solid roundhouse punch to the face instead of a crafty, swerving blow. There are some tricky riffs, but the genre as a whole these days is defined by high-end standard bearers like The Zenith Passage and Archspire, bands that are full on nuts and which have the spit shine of futuristic cyborg assassins, rather than simply tricky riffs which defined the genre’s birth and early period.

Which is not to say that Deformity is a bad album. Far from it. In fact, had the band not aspired and promoted itself as having elements of tech death, the experience of listening to Deformity might have been completely different. There is very little that feels “outside the box.” As a brutal death metal album, perhaps with tech flourishes or dressing, it’s a fairly solid release. Perhaps this is brutal technical dea—gah, it’s all too much. Microgenres be damned!

The album opens with a brief, mood setting instrumental, “Awakening The Miscreation” which gets just below cruising speed fairly quickly, with sinister riffing, blast beats and movie samples. The brutality begins with “Birthing The Deformity.” There are occasional dips into odd phrasing and harmonized licks that suggest elements of tech death, but, like much of the record, this track is a straight up bruiser. Jorel Hart’s guttural vocals are the focus of much of the music, and with good reason: his performance is ferocious and in-your-face. He brings a positively murderous element to the appropriately titled “Beneath The Floorboards,” another pile driver. The riffs have a gravitational aspect to them, pulling the listener into the lower depths, jumping back up a bit, and diving right back down.

Bassist Ian Bainbridge jumps into the spotlight during the instrumental break on “The Forgotten” with a bass lead that provides a nice contrast to the rest of the track. Things slow down a bit for “Dead Soil,” and the vocals make their appearance with a hellish groan before the track goes hyperspeed about a minute in, go-for-the-throat style. “The Cull” contains the coolest riffing of the album, as one of the main riffs has chords guitarists Harry Lannon and Rob Wharton that sound like they should be played on keyboard or synth as orchestra hits, and the band accents them as such, for a few bars firing like they’re on 110%, something that is difficult when you’re playing balls-out death metal for the entire album. “Wraiths” continues on with a slight Cannibal Corpse vibe, while the record closes with another pummeling, “Merciless Forest,” perhaps the inspiration for the cover art. In addition, it contains some deceptively tricky riffing, perhaps a portent of where they plan to take the band.

Deformity isn’t breaking any new ground, particularly, but the band is good at what they do, whatever you want to call it. If you like your metal mean and muscular, Deformity is certainly worth a listen.

Deformity released on October 28th via Unique Leader. You can purchase it right here.

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