MARE COGNITUM – Solar Paroxysm (2021)REVIEW

“[…] another sea, sluggish and almost stagnant, by which the whole globe is imagined to be girt and enclosed, from this circumstance, that the last light of the setting sun continues so vivid till its rising, as to obscure the stars. Popular belief adds, that the sound of his emerging from the ocean is also heard; and the forms of deities, with the rays beaming from his head, are beheld. Only thus far, report says truly, does nature extend.” Tacitus, Germania

One year beyond crowning collaborative achievement, five years beyond prior full-length statement, and now surpassing their first decade of notoriety the celestial fever-dreamed surrealism of (now) Portland, Oregon-based musician Jacob Buczarski‘s atmospheric black metal project Mare Cognitum reaches full maturity by virtue of its grasping beyond the expectations set thus far. The fifth cycle in hand, ‘Solar Paroxysm‘, is presented as inflamed, frustrated and fuming as he appears to step down from the hangar of the cosmos unto an Earth aflame via the follies of an unenlightened mankind. Though the riffs fly, and the howls are convincing, the spiritus of the project is no less drowned in melancholic existential dread than before.

The most we can ask from atmospheric black metal beyond, well, atmospheric generation is intricacy. Intricate atmospheric black metal is more common today than ever yet when sliding two decades into the past and perhaps even the late 90’s we would find the ‘atmospheric’ qualifier, as a quasi-meaningful distinction, a mundane note. Mare Cognitum was officially fired up in Orange County, California circa 2011, notably a generation or two beyond key innovations in atmoblack posturing and sub-genre niche development. The structure of Buczarski‘s early work originally persisted within the unsurprisingly rigid range of techniques and themes that suggested second generational use of the ‘cosmic black metal’ ethos; This framework characteristically features moderate use of dark ambiance and intentionally monotonous, droning guitar arrangements that meander with the intent of conveying mutation over time. For the sake of persisting a decade prior and releasing several widely celebrated works, the indicated ancestral zeitgeist for Mare Cognitum‘s style has resorted to Darkspace comparatives. Though this is generally satisfying on a dunce level, we should consider everything from Lunar Aurora to Wolves in the Throne Room as valuable informant for the sake of the well-crowded spectrum established post-2010. Though I will present some light argumentation that suggests there are considerable aesthetic changes to be found on ‘Solar Paroxysm’ it’d be far-fetched to suggest it doesn’t belong next to the rest of their five albums. If you already like this band and like the idea of ’em reaching early Aeternus levels of heavy on a few songs, this is a safe pre-order and an important record for the first half of the year.

Mare Cognitum are a steadfast point of nostalgia within the last decade for the sake of their music being my introduction to the now sated and closed Fallen Empire Records via vinyl editions of their catalog from 2011-2018 material prior to their second split album with Spectral Lore. For this reason we will largely sidestep the formative years of the project addressed between 2011 and 2013, setting sights upon the artists first split LP (‘Sol‘, 2013) with Greek black metal artist Spectral Lore as a fine example of progress in motion. This would ultimately fuel the luxury of his third album (‘Phobos Monolith‘, 2014) and represent the cycling of an artistic mind that’d grown enough that he’d begin looking upwards rather than down, away from the navel and fretboard gazing channels of the mind’s caustic hubris of perception unto reason. Stepping beyond the cave, we can clearly hear the ‘leap’ in acknowledgment of this march forth via broadening conceptual inspiration. A merger of increasing skill and “epic” aggressive arrangements meant to invoke grandeur atypical to atmospheric black metal’s dire plagiaristic follower culture was immediate and well appreciated. The split album with Spectral Lore had done wonders to free the artist’s hand from its self-taught early muscle memory while setting precedent for structural improvements alongside each album.

Luminiferous Aether‘ (2016) took even more command of its compositional directive, embodying a fatalistic, personalized philosophy and aggressively paced approach; Here we found the artist coming to terms with the inevitably ignorant, disappointing end of humanity as it remains plainly within view. An easy feeling to grasp by all but the most resolute denial fiends and a point of view that seems to persist here on the follow-up, though perhaps from a more personal perspective. As an somewhat pointless aside, a key track on that third album, “Constellation Hipparchia”, remains one of my favorite songs from the project to date. From that point Buczarski would focus on developing his own imprint (Entropic Records, now Extraconscious Records) and two major projects resulting in the debut from Acathexis, a collaboration with Déhà (Slow, Cult of Erinyes, et al.) and Dany Tee (Los Males del Mundo), in 2018. I will assume most folks are already aware of the remarkable career-defining second collaboration with Spectral Lore via 2020’s ‘Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine‘. Yes, that experience does seem to have driven the artist towards a fresh breakthrough. Just as ‘Sol’ had preceded a major change of perspective and presentation, now ‘Solar Paroxysm’ appears beyond another much larger cycle of revelation and reflection to redefine the voice of Mare Cognitum.

The suggestion made to start is that the flouncing guitar work inherent to atmospheric black metal has now been stifled for the sake of a direct connection, perhaps speaking most clearly to the melodic and progressive values of Buczarski‘s compositional voice; Though it is not a complete paradigm shift it is a shift nonetheless, where aggressively fluid guitar arrangements and lucid production values offer a strong melodic black metal-assisted punch to the shoulder of those expecting a restful microcosm to escape within. He hasn’t written a Sacramentum record just yet, though, think of it as a tethered exploration beyond the spaced-out and furious dynamic of prior works. This aggressive side of the band has long been present though it’d been found within (comparatively) short and infrequent bursts of Scandinavian black metal adjacencies. This enhanced guitar attack is but one major spectacle of the full listen as frustration itself is the major emotion conveyed, a shade of blinding yellow light already suggested on ‘Luminiferous Aether’ is now made the explosive main event. That said, grand hall-filling drama of Mare Cognitum has not left its venue, he is simply muscling his way around the surroundings with some fresh ferality. Does this mean we’ve stumbled upon an impossible atmoblack specific golden ratio of parallax movement between foreground and background music? Not necessarily, although every scene does make its case for ultimate importance within the greater whole, ‘Solar Paroxysm’ still shies away from overtly catchy and (most) “obvious” melodic moments. It is yet a cinematic experience, even if we’ve moved from balcony to arm’s length.

Do not throw your unkempt corporeal senescence into the oppressive searing fires of damnation just yet, Buczarski has still outdone himself here. The seemingly endless soaring leads of “Ataraxia Tunnels” that close ‘Solar Paroxysm’ persist as the last impressive thought before each cycle of rapt attention and concerned analysis for these five 10-12 minute songs reinvigorates itself. Opener “Antaresian” absolutely does shimmer with post-black cleanliness yet it charges forward with brass, double-kicking and roaring melodic black metal movements that fit a certain modern standard without borrowing from any one particular scene or artist too heavily. Leads do occasionally sew sections of these extended songs together, and this is most heavily used in the introductory moments, but there are uh, riffs on this Mare Cognitum album. “Frozen Star Divination” is not only a fine example of the greater stylistic ruthlessness found on ‘Solar Paroxysm’ but also my personal favorite piece on the album. Black metal that represents a sort of sentimental guitar orchestration is not at all outside of the modern standard yet this song develops with progressive intent, not unlike the elaborate dance of ‘…And So the Night Became‘ were it posited through a more uplifting motif. The ~4:00 minute mark and its development into a Mgła (or Sargeist) adjacent stream of melodic black energy is appreciable as somewhat unexpectedly bold work yet it is not entirely uncharacteristic for Mare Cognitum‘s oeuvre. A fleeting moment but a powerful one. Though the high count of repetitions and generally large blocks of slow-growing movements still identify this project, the step closer to the material in terms of fidelity does allow ‘Solar Paroxysm’ some remarkable presence when in full motion. “Luminous Accretion” specifically bears some ruthlessly signature moments yet somehow feels entirely fresh compared to similar work on ‘Luminiferous Aether’.

The conveyance of defiant vigor and rawest externalized struggle is the most effective breakthrough I could glean from my time spent with ‘Solar Paroxysm’. Digging through the moment-to-moment actions of each 10+ minute piece would only convey their impressive structural innards and yet highlight the one small weakness I’ve found Mare Cognitum still seems to struggle with, ending their pieces. The fade out that follows “Antaresian” is probably the most troubling example, the piece is far too sophisticated to rescind slowly beyond its peak momentum. I’d found myself repeatedly disappointed by this moment when leaving the album on repeat. This need for punctuation only suggests somewhat typical gripes I have with ‘atmospheric’ extreme metal in that we still find so many artists following two decade old templates decided upon by popular post-rock artists. The good news is that rambling and diffuse non-statements aren’t as common when dissecting ‘Solar Paroxysm’ piece-by-piece. It is a fine hour of fiery, dramatic atmospheric black metal music that makes up for its light memorability with gorgeous streams of passionate ‘in the moment’ guitar work throughout. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Solar Paroxysm
LABEL(S):I, Voidhanger Records
RELEASE DATE:March 26th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Atmospheric Black Metal,
Melodic Black Metal

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