I first listened to Cosmoprism: The Theurgy – Act 1 just after midnight. As I snuggled into my unicorn shaped pillow, I allowed the ambient nightmare that Tome of the Unreplenished had created into my mind. I let it capture my imagination and I was rewarded with a listening experience that, honestly, seemed to transport me into another world. Tome’s previous full-length Innerstanding was a very good atmospheric black metal album so I had high hopes for this. Little did I know that, like Wolves in the Throne Room with Celestite, Tome sought to explore their passion for drone and ambient by releasing a 31-minute mini-album that investigates — as is written — the “antipodes of the universe and its relation to the human condition.”
I listened to it again the next night, this time trying to pick out more features, trying to delve beneath the textured chaos for subtleties that I may have missed on a first listen. However, the second listen was less immersive and certain stretches began to grate both on my patience and on my ear-drums. Since then, after listening to the album in multiple other settings, Cosmoprism has become more and more of a chore to get through. After my initial listen, I felt that I had gleaned all I could from the album. I soldiered on, however, and gave it chance after chance.
Cosmoprism starts with crackling dissonance and ends with crackling dissonance. Crackling dissonance also makes up most of the in-between parts too. Off-kilter and out-of-tune sounds accompany this demented crackle, together forming a largely incoherent beast that sounds too much like a gaggle of sentient kitchen appliances on the attack rather than music with a DR score of 11. Opener “Exileosis” begins subdued: lonely single-stringed sitar or banjo sounds echo disharmoniously alongside a solemn drum beat and a wall of crackling ambiance. The song transitions into unrulier, though still slow, territories as distorted vocals wash through the mix and grating industrial sounds screech and crank, layer on layer, without much substance. The result is sloppy and ineffective rather than creepy and oppressive.
The eight-minutes of “Dead Body of God” continues the motif of auditory battery as high-pitched wailing, incomprehensible vocals, and sharp incessant noise add nowt but a headache to my listening experience. It’s not until mid-way through the song when the steady clang of drums, emerging deep from the undergrowth, brings a more controlled and satisfying feeling to the droning confusion. The industrial clang of the drums, like pistons and machinery blasting at top speed, ride beneath swarming high-pitched hysteria; for the first time, a sense of unsettling creepiness emerges from the instability. With such a high dynamic range score, you’d expect impressive clarity and depth, but both are prevented from being reached due to weak instrumentation and awkward ‘song’ construction. Discovering clarity is like trying to pick a piece of hay from a stack of needles: painful.
The final two tracks are the strongest, offering a more dynamic and interesting sound, but in no way do they abandon the fetters of musical convention (as stated by the label). Rather, they sound like very good Darkspace or Sunn O))) b-sides. “Black Hole Resident” is a dramatic song that grasped me straight away with its throbbing spacey sounds, semi-conventional riffs, and muttered spoken word vocals. It’s a vast and cinematic beast that sucks you into its vacuum excellently. “Hypostasis” has a similar pizzazz that builds layer-upon-layer rather well. Eerie and warped whispered vocals drift through the mix as a steady drum beat crushes beneath. Then, following the solemn sound of wind, the track explodes as a tumultuous medley of electronic laser-sounds, tribal drumming, and screeching machine noises merge powerfully before coming to a flat end.
There’s not enough here to retain a listener’s interest. Cosmoprism is an experiment that is too loose and obscure to succeed. However, maybe this is what Tome of the Unreplenished wanted to achieve; maybe this difficult monotony represents the ungraspable, unrelenting and random nature of the cosmos and of reality; maybe it’s Tome’s desire to subvert humanity’s struggle to explain and control reality through rationality and structure; maybe I’m talking absolute bollocks. I, Voidhanger state that the band seeks to “abandon the fetters of musical convention and knowingly steer into terra incognita. The cozy familiarity of the casual fan is here defaced and denounced by the sheer power of sound.” It looks like I’m a filthy casual who can only cope with cozy familiarity then.