Mare Cognitum, Luminiferous Aether, Italy, I, Voidhanger Records, CD IVR064 (2016)
Album title “Luminiferous Aether”, meaning the sky air that transmits light, flows smoothly off the tongue which, to be frank, is far more than can be said for this album of overstretched dark-space atmospheric black metal. By now, one-man Californian band Mare Cognitum has racked up a solid discography and “Luminiferous Aether” is his fourth album so listeners might be wondering where he is taking his music and whether it has advanced very much since he founded the project.
The album is a well-crafted effort from start to finish though for its genre and aims the music is very thin and needs more substance and power. It’s possible that with this album Mare Cognitum man Jacob Buczarski wanted a more raw and harsh black metal sound to help emphasise its cosmic space themes. I don’t fault him for wanting to do that but the songs are very long and a thin sound stretched over more than 10 minutes without some solidity in parts is going to sound very one-dimensional and under-powered. As well, melodies, riffs and rhythms will have to carry the music more than they would if this lacks power and sonic texture; and again with long songs, these structural elements need to provide backbone and unity to their respective tracks. As it happens, most tracks on “Luminiferous Aether” carry so many different melodies and riffs, few of them with their own flavour or individuality, often going at different speeds within the same piece, that the very idea of having separate tracks with their own titles becomes unnecessary. The entire album could have been one single work broken up into movements or chapters.
The music rarely varies in mood, key or instrumentation from one track to the next, and the atmosphere – always cold, remote and spacious in an airy way – is always the same. The sound quality is always very sharp and clear so that all instruments can be heard distinctly – but it also means the thin sound seems even more skeletal than it is. I wonder that Buczarski doesn’t see fit to add another instrument, even if in a minor way or in the background, to songs to differentiate them from one another and perhaps give a sense of direction, of purpose to the whole album. The percussion is very whippy-thin even on some later tracks like “Occultated Temporal Dimensions” where a scathing grinding guitar demands strong percussion to challenge it. While the level of musicianship on display is always good and consistent, there is the danger that without a clear sense of direction the music ends up being a long exercise in self-indulgence. It’s one thing to let yourself be carried away by the music for short periods but for a major part of an album going for 50+ minutes, the exhilaration resulting from being inspired by the music can, if taken too far, end up looking too self-indulgent and the freshness and edge are lost.
This recording could have worked so much better if each song had been pared down to a few essential riffs and melodies, the overall sound had been thicker and the production perhaps a bit muddier. Here is a case where a clear production doesn’t always make for a better recording than a more ragged or distorted approach. This is a pity as there is some very good music on offer here. Less emphasis on technical chops and more on an original style of music with more atmosphere and punch, and this album might be going a long, long way across the universe and beyond.