Monday, September 1, 2014

Kognitiv Tod - Mysteries

Like an abandoned house in the middle of the woods, Kognitiv Tod is a quaint, even rustic black metal solo project whose debut release “Mysteries” is oddly addictive. On the surface level there is plenty not to like. Each and every one of the tones is frumpy, dry, and almost shoddy. This escapes even the usual charms of raw black metal because of the surgically clean and dry approach. Beyond that, the music is very straightforward and minimalistic, taking cues from Burzum with the riffing and overall song structure. Despite not quite being amateur, “Mysteries” tonal quality also gives the release an abrasive atmosphere to the extent that Kognitive Tod doesn’t superficially feel similar to the hypnotic atmosphere of Burzum (amazing how minimal reverb can majorly change very familiar black metal paths.) Given the overall sound quality and minimal heaviness, “Mysteries” comes almost half way to being similar to “DauĂ°i Baldrs,” certainly poor company, but it is still weird enough to be an obvious musical outlier.

What makes these simple melodies so addictive however is the clever and dynamic use of counterpoint. Even transposing a melody to a different voicing, whether it be guitar or synth, and layering it in unanticipated ways allows a few songs to worm their way into the listener’s memory. Contrasting these powerful glimpses of songwriting is the bone-dry flavor that makes it seem like the drums aren’t the only programmed instrument. Still, it works. Instruments jumping in and out to double up on melodies or diverging to accent the harmony help to overshadow what would otherwise be irritatingly dry aspects like the sound the guitar pick hitting the strings. Sadly, the top-notch counterpoint that lends the album a lasting richness also makes up the vast bulk of its charm. This is a problem because only a paltry three of the nine tracks on “Mysteries” heavily rely on that technique: the excellent “Inviolate…” “Dysphoric…” and “Indomitable…”

Apart from these highlight tracks, the album is plainly flat and a rather tepid experience. While these songs make the others stronger in the context of an album format, they aren’t enough to make the entire release particularly strong. To be specific, these three songs all have killer guitar counterpoint riffs. While there is guitar counterpoint elsewhere, it is less frequent and weaker because one melody is typically just a flat background progression. Even in the overall dry vibe the vocals and drums both can be especially tough to swallow and are each used very narrowly. The programmed drums are stripped down to little more than sinew and the vocals are heavily processed and compressed to the point where they have no range in volume or attack. Moreover, there is minimal vocal variation with speed, rhythm, or pitch. Synths however work as a countervailing factor by lightly gluing the mix together while also subtly enriching it.

As the album is so counterpoint dependent, it would be nice to see the project delve deeper into that avenue. Pursuing richer and fuller tones, especially with the drums and vocals, would also help to propel the project onto a very strong path, but the true strength is within the addictively off kilter layers of melodies. Jangling without necessarily being dissonant or angular, these strong moments make “Mysteries” well worth listening to. Given that the project has three similarly situated 2014 full-length releases, Kognitiv Tod is clearly in need of a paring knife; “Mysteries” could have been a strong demo. As a closing side note, it is also surprising that the music is weirder than the cover art, which says a lot because the cover art is a progeria-stricken gentleman, circumscribed with golden hoops, giving a depressed black-robed wizardly man an enema. Weird indeed.

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