Like a supernova, Jacob Buczarski's talent fires off in every direction.
Words by Jake Sanders (@themetalscholar):
The display of discipline and appreciation shown in the catalogue of MARE COGNITUM is a terribly difficult thing to replicate. As rare as life in the universe itself, this one man project is the definitive proof that cosmic black metal as a genre hasn't even broken the surface of what is possible and beautiful.
Last year, the gloriously hailed two-hour epoch known as Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine tied SPECTRAL LORE and MARE COGNITUM together for the ages, culminating in what should be considered the final word on both atmospheric black metal and aesthetically-spacey concept albums. Not only did the two groups manage to trade off in a style that presented two equal perspectives of the solar system in one package, they quite effectively varied the pacing in a manner that builds a climax in precisely the way a total active listening nerd would love it. It's a story of galactic birth, a nine part isolation, and the eternal dance these bodies do that intertwines their fates together. It has all the notes of Sagan's expertise combined with Asimov's storytelling, so much so that it's almost too easy to become overwhelmed by the ambient inconsistency behind the album.
Emotions across the board make their appearance, from the life and hope of Earth, to the sheer majestic enormity of Jupiter, all the way to the desolation and the unknown wilderness that embodies Pluto. It's the kind of perfection that can only be obtained by a partnership between two dedicated parties, both of whom are as passionate and focused as both of these bands were. For listeners curious, this reviewer whole-heartedly endorses and applauds the efforts of both groups for such a bold venture musically, and to not hear such a work at least once is a disservice to the sheer volume of blood, sweat, and tears that were poured into it. This is an art that transcends its initial medium.
That being said, today's offering comes almost an exact year after the release of Wanderers, and it's just the benchmark audiences need to see that the pandemic break was no vacation for Jacob. He's been busy and he has arrived on the other side of a global crisis, this time with a full-length known as Solar Paroxysm. Let's break it down.
Right out of the gate, the apparent nature of this beast is one of dramatic evolution. As if it were the plan all along, Solar Paroxysm is a cornucopia of all of the improvements MARE COGNITUM could've made without being asked, nor prompted. Sound balance has been stabilized across the board, opting for a more tonally flat sound overall that dodges the lo-fi, oversaturated-by-treble production that many underground artists are retreating to these days. It's a fantastic change of pace that sets this release apart from the pack.
If there's anything that has returned with a vengeance, it's Jacob's ability to seamlessly mold neo-classical melodies into a framework for cosmic black metal that is both uncontrived, and contrary to the genre's traditionally evil sound. Much of the album takes great strides to craft the opposite sound, in fact; solos have been greatly expounded upon in both intricacy and form, majestic overtures have been maintained from 2016's Luminiferous Aether, but have settled amidst a sea of new tricks and features that promote the personal growth as a musician for a solo project that challenges a European origin with an American interjection of aesthetics.
Time signatures are a real treat, here. From the first track, Antaresian, you can hear how a well crafted black metal song plays into a speed-waltz with a 6/8 time signature that could just as willfully be sewn by a string quartet to the same level of epic repose. This specialty is a well-known ace for the man, but to be doubled down within the first few minutes of the album track an artist's self-awareness on understanding what the fans love to hear, while promising that it's just one trick of many.
The drum kit, an underappreciated aspect of the multi-instrumentalist formula is on full display this time around, featuring Mgła-like technicality on the cymbals, a staggered arrangement that continually adds new and exciting fills verse after verse, keeping the blast beats at arm's length while trying tirelessly to showcase both renewed stamina, and a flare for the dynamic in a way that allows for new wings to stretch, and not go unheard.
Vocals have decidedly embedded themselves somewhere into the mix this time around. While never the centerpiece of the entire composition, it has become more evident from watching the man behind the console slowly reduce his own vocal presence behind a wall of highly-tuned digital masking that not only has the plan seemingly come full circle back to a glaring overture, but the idea that the vocals are merely a part of the landscape has allowed so many easily obscured sounds to blend into the musical backdrop.
It's worth noting that if listeners have come just to hear the same buttery smooth tremolo that set Wanderers up for success with black metal audiences, they need not fret; this LP is more of the noteworthy speed-picking that made Jupiter (The Giant) sound so appealing, and the same endless energy that produced such whirlwind-force songs, as The First Point of Aries. It's a trademark of the equation that makes up Jacob's sound, and to say he does it well is an understatement of ridiculous proportions; the man trades in skillfully fast playing, and regardless of what part is being touched, there's almost a palpable level of favoritism among certain passages that bring both a sense of anticipation, and childlike amazement to its own entrance.
The build, the crescendo of scales that give way to a soaring solo performance, the burst of staccato kicks and licks that seem to bend from major to minor, and a half step up and down that trill to the sound of a soulfully bluesy guitar rising from its resting place to show it's still the dominant alpha of the instrumental pack. All of this and more can be found on Luminous Accretion, and crossing its own divide of sounds is a vocal interlude that struts the pipes of the man himself, a feat that almost wipes away this reviewer's previous comments — an ironic stunt that feels damn near spiteful — all while making a grand show of pause to climax into a multi-octave number that falls away into the ringing depths of the final track.
It would be hard to deny the obvious methods that this album excels. Historically, MARE COGNITUM's catalogue has been on the lengthy side of every LP, excluding the two-hour split LP Wanderers, of course, but with that being said — Solar Paroxysm still manages to come out on top in runtime, topping out the catalogue at a whopping fifty-six minutes. It's without a doubt the cleanest sounding album in both clarity and dynamic range, and it holds up throughout the entirety of the release. It's never a burden on the sound itself and at many points takes painstaking efforts to highlight both the complexity of the arrangement involved, and the technical mastery behind the writing of the piece, as well.
With even the shortest track being eleven minutes long, it's not hard to pick and choose favorites from virtually every offering, the memorable passages being multitudinous enough to place timestamps on a frequent basis throughout each playthrough. That's the marrow of Solar Paroxysm. To those eager fans of the project, this album has assuredly removed any notion that the pandemic has slowed any notion of progress. Listeners familiar with the catalogue will see an organic change from last year to this one, and those who felt that Wanderers had a plethora of sounds that needed to be retained will be pleased to know there's plenty of that here, too. It's a lovely little collection of cosmic black metal ambiance that resonates with die-hards and while still true to form, sacrifices little on its way to carving a stronger foundation for the band's future. This is the most pure example of a project that knows only how to be itself, and can't pretend otherwise. When one hears this, MARE COGNITUM is the only name that springs to mind, and that's just dandy; for those out there who have been floating endlessly in a void, waiting for the next star to appear on the interstellar horizon — your glimmer of hope has arrived.
Solar Paroxysm is out now via I, Voidhanger Records and Extraconscious Records. Blast off into greatness with your own copy HERE!