Happiness is an illusive thing. Most people spend their
entire lives chasing it, plenty of people have it and lose it without even
knowing it and almost everyone operates with the same assumption that being happy is better than any alternative.
But here’s the question—can you define happiness? Without flipping through
through a Webster or Oxford Dictionary, I mean. Think about it—because I’m sure
you’ve definitely thought about it before—but even though happiness is, by
nature, subjective, still so many of us want it more than anything but might
not even recognize it if it was held inches from our very eyes. Maybe that’s
why we’re so obsessed with it as a species.
An inherent fascination with what we do not (and possibly
Enter Cohen, the latest of many acts who have made this
quest for happiness the jumping-off point for their debut record, Happy. At first glance, Cohen are
another band hopping on the depressive metalcore bandwagon, and it’s tempting
to pin them as such and move on with a “5/10 no originality” type of summary.
But that doesn’t do Happy
justice—because Cohen are, truly, more than a Sworn In carbon copy or Yuth
Forever ambulance chaser. Combining crushing brutality with eerie melody and
second-to-none lyricism, the band have mass appeal without being massively
boring. Cohen’s Happy is an immensely
personal and emotional story that uses every trick in the book to break down
the listeners guard and win over even the most stonewalled, iron-fisted and
lock jawed heavy music enthusiasts.
Happy sees Cohen
use instrumentals that borrow heavily from the contemporary nu-metal infused
metalcore movement, aligning themselves excellently alongside acts like
Barrier, VCTMS and Darke Complex’s Widow days.
This, in itself, predisposes them to—on one hand—wide reception by those with a
predilection for that type of music. On the other hand, it casts a critical eye
on them by the remainder of the heavy music community who might otherwise be
quick to pidgeonhole Cohen as “trendy”—and maybe rightfully so, a little bit, because they do have that
distinct style to their sound that “sadbois” worldwide latch to. However, Cohen
are furthermore akin to artists like VCTMS because, while superficially their
brand of metalcore fits in that hashtag, a more in depth analysis of their
songwriting (especially in conjunction with their lyrics, keep reading) will
reveal that the band’s collective heart and soul is behind this record. Happy is an onslaught of emotion from
start to finish, with most of it fitting atop a crushing canvas of brooding,
brutalizing aggression. Drummer Aidan Nash works excellently with guitarist
Gage Girten and bassist Brent Smith on songs like “Fix” and “The Old Me” to
bring minute after minute of non-stop hurt.
Meanwhile, the subtle opening to the record in “I Am…” and “Hindsight” see the
band at a more mellow and introspective turn, with softer, downplayed
instrumentation. Through it all, Nash’s percussion is a sturdy backbone that
uses quick signature changes and fun, bold fills to keep the listener on their
toes, while Girten adds effects and eerie atmosphere behind every breakdown to
contrast with the groovy, energetic nature of their verses. The band aren’t
meant to be instrumentally jaw-dropping—rather, the instruments seem organized
to set a tone for Happy in the sense
that a book needs a spine and stitching to hold its pages together. Nash,
Girten and Smith work together to provide a comprehensive release that works in
riffs, grooves and soft, subtle moments of atmosphere around a core of
crushing, bone-busting breakdowns.
Cohen’s instrumental ability is mirrored by their penchant
for poignant lyricism as well. As it stands, the band, instrumentally, aren’t
groundbreaking—which is fine, not every band can be—but lyrically, they swing
for the emotional fences and far exceed their dues. Frontman Nick Erickson
brings his own story to life over Happy’s
twelve enormous tracks, leaving no stone unturned. While some songs—“Impend”
among them—see Erickson’s cleanly sung voice in the mix, other songs like “Happy”
or “Fix” are straight up fury, blending aggression and angst into a beautiful
hybrid. Erickson’s lyrics (see: “Hindsight,” “Happy” or “Fix”) are the mainstay
of the band’s appeal, and his voice—while not technically perfect—is raw and
rough around the edges, bolstering each syllable with an unfakeable heir of
realism and honesty. His range might not be the range of Dickie Allen, and he
may not have Ben Duerr’s stamina or cadence, but he doesn’t need to be a “big
name” vocalist for his performance to be nothing short of immaculate on Happy, all things being equal.
The only places Happy
hits some stumbling blocks come in the way of the album’s production which—on one
hand is warm and intimate, revealing in its gritty nature and imperfections—but
also could stand with just a little more finish to make some of the atmospheric
moments more memorable and some of the breakdowns hit even harder. With that
said, Happy is by no means poorly produced—it just could
use a little more panache to give it punch. To that point, some moments on Happy sound a little homogenous, giving
the middle record a sense that a couple of the songs just seem to merge together.
Again, it isn’t a critical flaw—especially for the band’s first release—but it
does become more and more evident the more the listener spins through the record;
which is something they’ll be doing often. Ultimately, Happy is an earnest and emotional record that is enjoyable from
start to finish with several moments that make it truly stand out. Do Cohen
still have a little refining to do—a couple bad habits they still have to kick?
Yeah, but so does every band, so for now, bathe yourself in Cohen’s brand of Happy.
For Fans Of: VCTMS, Yuth Forever, Barrier, Sworn In