Mankind’s fascination with space has been well documented across various forms of art for as long as art has been documented, and heavy metal music is no exception. The immense beauty and terrifying scope of the universe beyond our atmosphere has drawn the attention of artists across the extreme music spectrum, from black metal institutions like Darkspace to death metal’s newest (and arguably brightest) stars Blood Incantation. Since 2011, Lake Forest, CA’s Mare Cognitum has been making his mark on the world of black metal using these same cosmic mysteries as a thematic approach, and his new offering, Luminiferous Aether is not only his best work yet, but a serious contender for album of the year.
Mare Cognitum, the solo work of one Jacob Buczarski, has drawn attention through the juxtaposition of technical aggression and somber melody, and Luminiferous Aether shows that signature balance of beauty and brawn at it’s most hard-hitting. The five songs contained on this album are driven by fast and frantic drums and tight guitar riffing, but are balanced out by moments of soaring, heartfelt melodies to draw the listener in. This melodic sense also serves to contrast with the band’s poignant and often nihilistic lyrics. Thematically focusing on what drives mankind’s struggle to manifest destiny in a universe that ultimately will forget us long after we are gone and whether or not our salvation can be achieved through settling on new worlds beyond, Mare Cognitum’s music touches on many of the hallmarks of science fiction and makes for an introspective experience.
Nowhere do these elements come together better than on “Constellation Hipparchia”, the album’s midpoint and quite possibly my favorite song I have heard all year long. Weaving together punchy, thrash-esque riffing, ethereal melody, and dazzling drumming, this is the ultimate distillation of everything Mare Cognitum is capable of. The song builds itself up over the course of almost thirteen minutes from a slow, melodic intro to a burning crescendo, taking the listener on a journey to examine the darkness present in all humanity, and to ponder whether or not it is even worth it for us to try to rebel against our nature in the face of our inevitable end. “Constellations / Burying the withered aeons of the past ” are the words repeated throughout the song, speaking to the enduring nature of the universe in comparison to the sliver of time humanity has in the grand scheme of the cosmos. Yet as the furious rhythms and mournful melodies conclude, there comes a glimmer of hope, as the song ends: “To have traveled so far / Only to be left in blindness, wandering alone / Is not enough to conquer the soul / It is a beginning”. The human spirit presses on despite all obstacles.
Luminiferous Aether is a work of staggering beauty and skill. Technical without going over the listener’s head, deeply melodic without sounding forced, there is truly something for everyone on this album. Grab your headphones, look up at the stars, and keep that sense of wonder at the beyond alive.