The soundtrack to astral projection.
Words by Ryan McCarthy:
Polish solo project ARS MAGNA UMBRAE is part of a subsection of the third (fourth?) wave of black metal that I lovingly (and perhaps pretentiously) refer to as “orthodox black metal.” Alongside bands such as NIGHTBRINGER, ACHERONTAS, and DØDSENGEL, they blend traditional black metal sounds and aesthetics with high brow, esoteric meditations on the mysteries of death - all over a bedrock of dense, reverb-heavy tremolo riffs and blast beats that would make HELLHAMMER envious. ARS MAGNA UMBRAE’s third full length, Apotheosis, is a benchmark in the band’s relatively small discography and promises great things for the future.
ARS MAGNA UMBRAE kicks this record off with a mood-setting, somber ambient track entitled Through Fields of Asphodel. Wavering strings and barely discernible melodies float softly in the oneiric aether, all accompanied by a quiet, almost inaudible spoken word passage. The first proper track, She Who Splits the Earth, demonstrates with absolutely no ambiguity that ARS MAGNA UMBRAE is in peak form on this record. The riffs on this track are the kind that almost demand that you close your eyes and give them every ounce of your attention. There’s so much detail packed into these relatively short tracks that it seems likely that no amount of listens will reveal all of the occult secrets hiding in the foreground and background of these tracks. I guess it’s true what they say about the man concealed in the details.
Third track On the Wings of Divine Fires opens with a more straightforward, rock-inspired riff, showing that the fine art of black metal can be memorable even while it’s transcendent and transportive. Lyrics like “On the wings of divine fires I shall soar high | To break through the firmament’s dead eyes!” and “Behold the ecstasy of fire and flesh | Dive deep into the starless depths!” read like mantras to rid yourself of that burdensome corporeal vessel and ascend into the spiritual plane. Or, you know, that sort of thing. In all seriousness, anyone interested in left hand path spirituality, magic, or really even philosophy would get a lot of reading the lyrics. I’d even say it’s worth giving the album a fill listen-through while reading the lyrics, which I of course did, because I am of course a shameless nerd.
The vocals are worth mentioning in their own right. They bring a sense of character and life to this record that, frankly, a lot of newer black metal records lack. I get it, as a vocalist myself I understand how hard it is to land on a completely original vocal style. Nor does every element of every record need to be groundbreaking or innovative… but it doesn’t hurt when they are. The vocal delivery on this record is impassioned but controlled, present yet otherworldly; they exist at contradictory intersections that give the vocals and the record as a whole a uniqueness that would prove very difficult to replicate.
The production on Apotheosis compliments the compositions beautifully. There’s no shortage of murk and gloom, but every instrument sits right where it should and carries a very real presence and weight. One of the greatest strengths of this record is its self-aware emphasis on keeping the tracks concise and focused, lending them a potency that longer compositions might have begun to lack. The other upshot of this approach is that once each song ends, I immediately want to listen to the whole thing again to immerse myself once more in the somber and ethereal world that this album creates.
So, to any and all fans of extreme music: this project deserves your attention. Apotheosis is out on August 21st courtesy of I, Voidhanger, and you can preorder your copy HERE.