One of the reasons people gravitate towards black metal is the drama. I don’t mean a Sunset Beach sort of drama, but the sweeping grandeur of it. Even discounting the symphonic bombast of Emperor or the goats-on-sticks of Gorgoroth, the darkest of all metals continues to supply artists that reach into themselves to make pointed, affecting music, which resonates with humans enough to get Dimmu Borgir playing with an orchestra.
One-man black metal has always been high in tension and excitement, from Xasthur and Old Graves to Judas Iscariot, but few can match the immense scope of Mare Cognitum. Emanating from sole member Jacob Buczarski, The Sea Which Has Become Known has been re-issued on I, Voidhanger Records and rightly so. From the very outset this is over the top; a sorrowful, strident piano sets the scene, joined by doubled trem picking that borders on brass before the 2 and a half minute mark heralds the grim and gradual swell of Internal Deliquessence.
There’s no relaxing here. While a terrible peace can be found in the whirling shadow of BM, Buczarski has every instrument wound up to optimum stress, and with his voice an alien, ancient wraith it’s highly unlikely you’d whack this on for a drive in the country. The lengthy compositions – characteristic of Mare Cognitums’ catalogue – allow the material to blossom into its true splendour without a second being wasted.
That’s the over-arching feeling; the shortest track is a hair over 7 minutes, but this is by design, and digging into Buczarski’s other works like Phobos Monolith, these songs seem quite brief. If you want looooong, check out the Sol collaboration with Spectral Lore, where you’ll find the opening track kicking your ass for a full half hour. What’s more impressive is keeping the tension this high for such a duration – Vehement Coalescence is a total rampage, carefully weighted so as keep the listener engaged while enduring a right pummeling.
Making audial aggression believable and exciting for 40 minutes is a difficult thing to achieve, but The Sea… manages it with sensible pacing, variety and interwoven melody. When Lustrate goes cinematic it doesn’t feel in any way contrived or incongruous pitted against the more ripping material, and the lulls in extremity in the latter half of the record mean that when the freezing wind starts again you genuinely feel it.
Closer The Immortal Plague gradually ramps up the spirit of the old guard of BM, with added dissonance and some abrupt directional changes. Taking a couple of minutes to really find its way, it still manages to deliver the goods, even if it feels a bit confused. Containing the only weaker moments on the album, once it passes the 4 minute mark it’s on, decidedly prisoner-free and frantic but not afraid to dial it back a touch for contrast.
After all this fawning positivity I should come clean. It’s not essential that every word in this genre be clear and distinct – that’s what thrash is for – and while the vocals are tonally impressive and superbly consistent, it’s almost a black art itself discerning one exclamation from another. This is a ferociously executed, meticulous yet wild-eyed album, and given Buczarski’s engaging, cosmic mission statement and intriguing thematics I would have liked to have engaged with the lyrical content.
That being said, if you have even a ketchup-mild interest in black metal or simply want to hear a belter of a record, get this. I shall confess that after hearing The Sea Which Has Become Known I went straight to Bandcamp to get more of it, so I can’t give a better recommendation than that. Let the multiverse cocoon you in its darkness, and you’ll be hearing this as you surrender yourself to the infinite realms of space.