Review Summary: A beautifully crafted, self-aware opus that succeeds where many others have failed.
No matter how hard I try and no matter the way I approach it, I cannot bring myself to love atmospheric black metal. Not the modern variety that’s proliferated, at least. It seems to go against the nihilistic ethos of its parent genre, attempting to conjure atmosphere through glistening effects that leave even its rawest exhibits feeling a little contrived. Though largely incomparable, it often suffers from the same tunnel-visioned outlook as brutal death metal: when you reduce a style down to a solitary trait, the outcome can not only be detrimental but counter-productive. Until now, Mare Cognitum was no exception to this, with prior work feeling a little forced and unripe. However, with his fourth full-length in Luminiferous Aether
, the one-man band has found a balance between the genre’s limitations and the weight of his ambitions.
Everything here feels like the means to an end, as the compositions are able to breathe with the mood stemming from the core as opposed to the bells and whistles attached. Although that isn’t to say Luminiferous Aether
is aesthetically stripped down, because the production is as lavish as the album’s spacey themes are grandiose. Both the lead and rhythm guitars – as well as the multitude of additional tracks that slither in and out of earshot – are soaked in delay, bolstering the uplifting vibe further still, if occasionally tumbling into melodrama. Windswept synth pads are also present, but consigned to the background where they rightfully belong. The diminished electronics give the listener a better appreciation of Mare Cognitum’s musical proficiency, which is put to good use in reeling off a handful of dexterous solos. Curiously, he opts to bury his handiwork in the mix, imbuing each song with a sense of mysticism and shirking flamboyance in the process.
Listening on, you can’t help but be impressed by Mare Cognitum’s intuition; he just seems to know
what will work and what won’t in any given sequence. Some riffs, such as the one during the pre-chorus of “Constellation Hipparchia” are deceptively catchy, dancing back and forth between staccato-esque power chords and fleeting tremolo spells. But rather than feeling incongruent, the riff manages to anchor the song without becoming a focal point, allowing the rest of the piece to soar unimpeded. However, Luminiferous Aether
isn’t just a one-way ascension; “Occultated Temporal Dimensions” is noticeably darker and more violent than the accompanying songs. As such, the riffs may not be as individually memorable, but what it trades in terms of thrills, it makes up for in distinctiveness to the benefit of what bookends it. Though repetition has a big role in the arrangements, Mare Cognitum’s perceptiveness and attention to detail prevents them from stagnating, the result of which is rather captivating.
This album is refreshing in that it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It’s theatrical, bold and forthright in its approach to atmospheric black metal, but that doesn’t come at the expense of quality. The only reservation one might have is that it feels like a creative zenith for Mare Cognitum, and leaves me wondering where he will go next having hit his stride. Regardless, Luminiferous Aether
is here to savour for the time being, and rest assured that it won’t disappoint.