9/10 – review by Jabbawock
Mare Cognitum is a one-man Black Metal project from California, started in 2011, and having previously released two full length albums and a split. Their new album, Phobos Monolith, is to be released this October on IVR (I, Voidhanger Records – sub-label of ATMF).
I was not unaware of this band’s existence before picking up this album; I heard the name several times before, and probably listened to a few songs here and there. At least the split they did with Spectral Lore last year definitely sounds familiar. I never really gave the band much attention though, and I was not yet fully familiar with their music. When I came across this new album, knowing that IVR often has interesting releases to offer, I wanted to give it a try. Plus, the band dubs themselves as “Cosmic Black Metal”, and being a huge fan of Darkspace, I found that quite appealing.
Well, let’s get this out of the way: this album sounds nothing like Darkspace at all. Instead, we are offered a rather fast-paced Atmospheric Black Metal, very much in the vein of The Great Old Ones (especially their debut), with some influences from the Cascadian scene (Sadhaka, Alda…). In fact, apart from the lyrical aspect, and some spacey-sounding keyboards and samples from time to time, the “Cosmic” tag is rather misleading if you compare to other bands labelled similarly. But, with that out of the way, I was really impressed by the music on this release!
The four songs on this album make use of the typical elements of the Atmospheric Black Metal genre, with long blast-beats sections filled with guitar leads. Not always distinct and catchy melodies, but more like layers of high tones to create an aura. And this is achieved very well here. The riffs and leads always “go forward” (each riff is new and does not come back later in the song), and while some similar bands may fail at this, losing the listener’s attention by continuously introducing new but non-distinctive elements, it isn’t the case here, as the aura being created is just so captivating in itself. I generally listen to music while working on other things; when I first heard this album, I found myself actively paying attention to what was going on.
Next to those fast parts and some slower, airy moments, common within the sub-genre, some more articulate guitar riffing is also used for a change of pace (mostly in songs 2 and 4). This gives us some diversity between the songs, which is very welcome. Drumming-wise, there is not much to comment; it stays very tight despite the overall high tempo (I suppose those are programmed drums), sits well in the mix, and just does the job here.
The vocals from main-man Jacob Buczarski are mostly Black Metal rasps, quite similar in tone to those of Don Anderson from Agalloch, although having a lot more effects applied to them. Just as in the case of Agalloch, I am not a big fan of those kind of vocals, as I feel they lack some body. In the case of Mare Cognitum it bothers me less though, as they blend well with the music and fit the atmosphere of the album. Some growls are also used, which is a nice addition. I always enjoy the use of growled vocals in (atmospheric) Black Metal, as it reminds of Hate Forest. The growls of Jacob are done in a rather standard Death Metal fashion, but they work perfectly here, adding some power where needed.
I really don’t have much to complain about regarding this album, as the music has a clear identity, a nice aura, and is well executed. It doesn’t sound totally unique but is no copycat of anything else either. It’s the band’s third album and it shows; the compositions sound mature and well thought-out. I have the impression that the four tracks are a bit un-even in terms of musical quality, but not by much, and it’s something that’s bound to improve with subsequent releases. There are also a few moments when I thought: “this could be done better”. The most significant one being the ending of the last song, which felt a bit like “ok, it’s over, let’s stop playing”, at least to me. I don’t believe that Jakub simply forgot to think of an ending for this album, but I do think it was not the best choice in this case.
But these are all very minor points. This album is very good (dare I say awesome), and I would recommend it to all fans of Atmospheric Black Metal. I will definitely keep an eye open for the future releases from this project; if the quality continues to improve from here, the band will become a true classic within the genre!