Review Summary: The vastness of space... in both its wonder and its horror.
I’ve long been fascinated with records that explore the sounds of space from an extreme metal point of view. There’s an inherent excitement to basking in an expansive atmosphere while being bombarded by aggressive guitar work and pummeling blastbeats, as bands like Blood Incantation and Mithras have definitely proven. No matter how intense the music gets, there’s something strangely soothing and dreamlike about it; it’s almost as if the music could threaten to become background noise if you’re not paying enough attention. But much like the aforementioned bands, Mare Cognitum - consisting only of California native Jacob Buczarski - brings just the right amount of musical variety and neat embellishments to (mostly) avoid the pitfall of overt repetition. The fact that Solar Paroxysm
has no song under 10 minutes might seem like a doozy, but believe me: this album flies by very quickly.
Every song here is a mini-epic rife with the tropes you’d typically hear from a progressive/atmospheric black metal project: long tremolo-picked passages, layered wall-of-sound instrumentation for that “vast” soundscape, and of course the harsh shrieks to top it all off. There’s a remarkable sense of progression in these tracks despite the album’s often long-winded nature, largely due to the fact that most of them come from a similar beginning. The majority of the tracks kick off with a familiar tremolo/blastbeat-driven base, and while that does make the intros a tad predictable, it allows Buczarski to use them as a launching pad to fly off in whatever direction he sees fit. Opener “Antaresian” opts to settle into what I could consider a “funeral waltz” using increasingly progressive 3/4 and 6/8 chugs before climaxing with a beautifully melancholic solo; meanwhile, “Frozen Star Divinization” is a long showcase of mesmerizing tremolo guitar harmonies, almost as if they’re locked in a never-ending duel in the middle of a wintry tundra. “Luminous Accretion” is probably the most technical song on offer, constantly shifting tempos and riff patterns while giving the drums a serious workout; finally, “Ataraxia Tunnels” is probably the most traditionally black metal-oriented track here while maintaining the sense of atmosphere that defines the rest of the album.
“Terra Requiem”, however, doesn’t fit quite as nicely on a stylistic level… and that’s because it’s the best song on the record. Most of it is played at a snail’s pace and really gets at the heart of this record’s dark take on a cosmic sound. The tremolo harmonies and double bass drumming are still prevalent here, just used to color a more funereal and despair-filled picture. Everything comes together beautifully in the middle of the song, as the keyboards soar above the melodic guitar solo; it strikes a brilliant balance between awe and hopelessness that I haven’t heard in quite some time. Speaking of the “picture”, the lyrics of Solar Paroxysm
are very appropriate to the music as well. It’s your typical vaguely space-y imagery, but there are some pretty cool stanzas I’ll single out. Check out these ones from “Luminous Accretion”:
Self-observed from above, lingering
Communicants, wretched spires
Materialize, surround, engulf
Great tongues through which
Creations are spoken (and thus conceived)”
Or these ones from “Terra Requiem”:
“The last leaves have fallen
The last vine has withered
The ocean has boiled for so long
Choking our breath with fetid steam
We claw for shelter from the heartless sun
Which cracks our skin and dries our wells
So great is the debt we have incurred
So too will we wilt and fade into dust”
Again, pretty vague and hard to decipher, but the imagery itself really fits the sound of the album so I don’t mind in the slightest.
Whether or not you will enjoy Solar Paroxysm
will probably depend on your tolerance for the familiar tropes Mare Cognitum often employs to flesh out his sound. It’s true that nothing on this album breaks much new ground for atmospheric black metal, but the quality lies in how
it’s executed here. The songs, while often starting the same, eventually lead us to incredibly neat locales by the time they’re done because of Buczarski’s adventurousness with this well-worn genre. Solar Paroxysm
is my first experience with Mare Cognitum, and it looks like I have one hell of a back catalogue ahead of me if this album’s any indication.