I first encountered space gazing black metal outfit Mare Cognitum on that impressive split with Spectral Lore back in 2013 (a good place to start with both bands and, while I’m at it, this summer’s Mare Cognitum split with Aureole is also recommended). I’ve always been tempted to consider it part of that same avant-garde, trippy, extra-conscious sub-genre that Spectral Lore occupies and that may have been a mistake. For a start, Spectral Lore is pretty much in a field of one these days and there really is no comparison to draw with that jaw-dropping Greek genius. Mare Cognitum is a bit more straightforward. But, on the other hand, it excels at what it does – because if space gazing, tendon-testing, tremolo-filled black metal is what you’re looking for then look no further.
If you’ve ever heard and liked bands like Wolves in the Throne Room or Panopticon then you may well like Mare Cognitum. It’s got that same ethereal, semi-melodic black metal charm but replaces the paganisms with cosmic ambience and lashings of compelling riffs. Previous album Phobos Monolith was a triumph – a full throttle race through the outer reaches of the cosmos that took Mare Cognitum to a whole new level of intensity. It was a soaring progression I enjoyed so I was a little surprised to hear that things had been pulled back a little this time round. Luminiferous Aether, while it still reaches for the stars, is a little more contemplative. Almost as if it is holding something back.
It focuses again on those ever circulating riffs, instead of going flat out like Phobos Monolith, and feels very much like band mastermind Jacob Buczarski is feeling his way towards trying to create a grand work. While this is, by and large, going to be every bit what I suspect many Mare Cognitum fans are after, I also feel he’s not there quite yet in terms of producing the grand vision. There is without doubt some pretty stunning black metal here – almost orchestral in its compositions and scale. But I also feel it’s a bit of a step backwards for an outfit that I expect is capable of ever great things. At times those riffs become just a little too repetitive (I know, I know, that’s kind of the point) and at times they feel just a little too earthbound for my liking (like on constellation Hipparchia).
There are clear attempts to inject a bit of complexity – Occultated Temporal Dimensions is a stand out track for me that I could really get my teeth into and brings much needed sense of cosmic awe to the album. And Aether Wind is a decent finale. But one or two of these five tracks feel a little like space-gazing black metal painted by numbers and with each track clocking in at 10 minutes or so that’s more than I’m prepared to gloss over. This is a good album – and maybe I’m being a bit harsh here with my expectations getting in the way a little – but I believe there is more to come from Buczarski and it feel a little like we are treading weather here at times. Still, if you’ve enjoyed what he’s done in the past and you’re even slightly into tremolo-drenched uplifting black metal then there is plenty to enjoy here.
(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)