Album Review: Spectral Lore & Mare Cognitum — “Wanderers: The Astrology of the Nine”

Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum - Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine

Do you like black metal? Concept albums? Sprawling epics created by musicians dedicated to their craft? What about space and the cosmos? Did you spend a period of your life obsessed with Holst’s The Planets? Ever thought that what The Planets needed was a complete re-imagining driven by all of the above? Well then, Mare Cognitum & Spectral Lore have got you covered with Wanderers: The Astrology of the Nine.

Jacob Buczarski and Ayloss (who are Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore, respectively) admit, on the album’s bandcamp page, that Holst was an influence. Where Holst stopped at seven planets, Mare Cognitum & Spectral Lore take it to nine, including both Earth and the much beloved planetoid of Pluto. Each musician contributes four tracks to the album, with the final two part opus attributed to them both.

This brings me to the first item I’d like to call out: the mix, tone, and delivery of this album are amazingly consistent. I cannot remember another time where a split album wasn’t clearly just two completely different bands putting tracks together. If you had handed me this album blind and asked me to describe what I thought about it and the band, at no point would I have guessed that it was the product of multiple. This alone seems like a spectacular achievement for an album that almost literally reaches for the stars.

The songcrafting from both of these individuals is absolutely stellar. Memorable riffs and passages abound. Over the month and a half I’ve been absorbing this album, I regularly found myself recalling some stand-out moments, and reaching for the album yet again. I could probably write a paragraph about each track, but instead, I’m going to call out a favorite, which is easily “Jupiter (The Giant).” It has that Hope Drone quality which I generally don’t hear outside of Hope Drone, and I don’t know if the similarity is intentional or not, but I love it. It’s long and driving, with layered intensity and ominous calm, and it works for me on all levels. It only just edges out most of the other songs, because the album is just that good.

Nearly every song has something intense and creative to offer, never becoming dull over the nearly two hour run time, with one clear exception: “Pluto (The Gatekeeper) Part I: Exodus Through The Frozen Wastes.” I absolutely adore this album, and while I am on record as believing all songs should be long and every album should at least fill up a full CD, the reality is that this album did not need eleven and a half minutes taken up by ambient whooshing. If it had simply been a long intro to the final track, it would have slotted perfectly into the album, but instead I find myself reaching for the skip button as soon as it starts up.

It’s definitely an ambitious album, and I’ll never hold it against enthusiastic musicians, but it has rough edges. Normally small production issues wouldn’t really bother me and I wouldn’t call them out, but this is one of those times when I’m enjoying the album SO MUCH, that the small imperfections stand out more than they probably would otherwise. First and foremost is that despite a lot of extremely clever drumming patterns, the drum samples used are repetitive and abrasive in how fake they sound at times. I will generally defend albums with programmed drums because done extremely well it can be very difficult to even tell they aren’t real, but that is simply not the case on Wanderers. There’s one part during “Earth (The Mother)” where there’s this extended blast beat, but it’s pretty much the same sample repeated. At that point I almost wish they’d just gone with clear synth drums instead of easily identifiable samples. Second is that the signal is a bit clipped in places, where it straight up turns to static around the edges. I had originally thought I’d screwed up my mp3 conversion (the promo was provided with lossless wav files), but going back and listening to the source tracks, the same bits of static persist. Lastly, the mixing is very dense, to the point where it almost sounds like it was intended as blackgaze, though the mix is more due to a lack of separation than layered reverb and delay. These are unfortunate blemishes on an album that is still going to manage to end up on my end of year list. I just wish the drum samples and production lived up to the standard set by the songwriting and overall tone of the album.

That being said, let me reiterate that nothing about the previous paragraph stops me from loving this album. I’d rather have an album that reaches a little too far but manages to achieve something special than an album with flawless production which is boring. Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum have definitely managed an achievement with Wanderers, and I definitely hope there’s more to come. They’ve collaborated before, so I expect it will happen again, and all I can say is: yes please.

– Charles

Wanderers: The Astrology of the Nine will be available March 13th on I, Voidhanger Records. For more information on on Mare Cognitum, visit their Facebook page and for more information on Spectral Lore, visit their Facebook page.

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