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 cannot) comprehend.
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