It’s a remarkable achievement to be able to stand out in a crowded market. Regardless of the theme or medium, it really is something to face wide competition and somehow remain distinctive in spite of it. That distinctive identity that first intrigued me in Mare Cognitum has never worn thin. Atmospheric black metal is one of the most crowded scenes around (especially when you consider one-shot solo projects), and I could probably count on two hands the number of current bands that manage to clamor beyond the mire to create something unique. Mare Cognitum’s dedicated space bent would have put Jacob Buczarski‘s work in a smaller niche to begin with. Still, when it comes to space-inspired atmosphere in black metal, Mare Cognitum is perhaps second only to Darkspace in terms of brilliance. Even if his riffs more than occasionally bore a Romantic tinge, the ultimate effect was cold and crippling.
I’ve always loved how I could put on a Mare Cognitum album, close my eyes, and easily imagine that I was completely alone in a cosmic vacuum, light years from other humans, and further still from any hope. Buczarski first really nailed this on An Extraconscious Lucidity and came closer to cold perfection with Phobos Monolith. Having listened to this project for close to four years now, it’s that last album that stands head and tails above the rest as Mare Cognitum’s finest achievement. It was easily the bleakest observation to date, and a certain sign that Mare Cognitum had finally found its mark. With all that, I’m surprised that Luminiferous Aether plays against most of the expectations laid forth by its predecessor. Especially compared to Phobos Monolith, this is a predominantly Romantic, blackgazey record. All of the familiar Mare Cognitum tropes are here, but this shifting atmosphere may prove surprising for fans that picked up with the last album.
Luminiferous Aether was admittedly one of my most anticipated albums of this year. I can say now after several attentive listens that it doesn’t disappoint, though I’m simultaneously of the mindset that Mare Cognitum’s body of work hasn’t been pushed further than it has on past steps. This impression is surprising considering it arguably offers up a greater diversity than previous albums. As a whole, Luminiferous Aether emphasizes Mare Cognitum’s aforementioned Romantic side, with ‘Heliacal Rising’ sounding gently airy even by the standards of blackgaze. On its other extreme, the album offers up at least one section where Mare Cognitum seems to be getting as aggressive as it can. A particular flurry on riffs on ‘Occultated Temporal Dimensions’ is a dynamic blast that sounds like a pint-sized dose of Deathspell Omega before recoiling back to regular programming. However, given that there was a similar ‘jump scare’ on Phobos Monolith in the form of that Anaal Nathrakh explosion come ‘Ephemeral Eternity’, it can’t really be said that this kind of surprise is, well… all too surprising for Mare Cognitum at this point in the game.
I expected Luminiferous Aether to rank among my favourite albums of this year. I was disappointed on my first listen when it didn’t seem to leap out or do much for me. However, knowing that the trick in Buczarski’s arrangements lay in the subtle layers, I gave the album listen after listen, each time making a concerted attempt to notice something I’d overlooked on past spins. I’m glad I did. I don’t think it has the impressive songwriting dynamics of An Extraconscious Lucidity or the enveloping atmosphere of Phobos Monolith, but this isn’t a misstep for the project. Instead, this stands more as a consolidation of what it has achieved in the past. In addition, ‘Constellation Hipparchia’ and ‘Aether Wind’ rank among some of the best songs in the band’s discography. It’s not my favourite album as a longtime fan of Buczarski’s work, but I don’t see any signs of him slowing down in the future.
01) Heliacal Rising
02) The First Point of Aries
03) Constellation Hipparchia
04) Occultated Temporal Dimensions
05) Aether Wind