Okay, so you burned every church out there. Every last forest has been utilized for frost-bitten photographs of corpse-painted minions wielding medieval weaponry, invisible oranges, or both. You sang every hymn there is for either Satan, Tolkien orcness, darkness, the wilderness, or anything even remotely related to the above. What’s left to cover? Why SPACE, of course! As Darkspace and Hoth taught us, black metal bands are mining the fertile final frontier for inspiration. Californian multi-instrumentalist Jacob Buczarski weaves tales of cosmic mysticism with his one-man band, Mare Cognitum, and on his fourth album, Luminiferous Aether, Buczarski aims for the stars, and the results are a bit of a mixed bag.
But it’s not for want of trying. For example, opener “Heliacal Rising” establishes an ethereal atmosphere right off the bat. Watery guitar melodies glisten over a single floor tom before the drums begin in earnest, with another guitar humming in the background. As the song builds, Buczarski slowly paints a somber yet beautiful picture with his guitar melodies and effects. Whereas Darkspace turned space into a truly frightening phenomenon, Buczarski morphs it into an object of beauty and majesty. At once reflective, darkly colorful, and moving, “Heliacal Rising” engages the listener early, holding your attention throughout the song’s nine minutes. By the time the song concludes, you’re left awestruck and amazed. Very rarely has nine minutes flown by so quickly and poetically.
Buczarski’s guitar work steals the show on Luminiferous Aether. His use of layered tremolo melodies and Voivod-like progressions, such as the riff at 1:57 of “Occultated Temporal Dimensions,” jettisons the beauty of the opening song’s atmosphere for darker, denser territory. “The First Point of Aries” possesses one of the best black melodies I’ve heard in a long time in the opening riff. Also, his drumming, real or programmed, peppers the album with some interesting fills within the never-ending blast-a-thon. Each song contains moments of sheer magnificence, showcasing what Buczarski is capable of as a musician.
But that magnificence comes at a hefty price. I’m a sucker for all things atmospheric, but when the atmosphere is stifling and constricting, everything races away in a blur. The production bears part of the blame, as the guitars feel almost imprisoning, smothering any semblance of bass, and burying the keyboards a bit. Also, the songwriting needs some breathing space [There is no breathing space…in space. – Steel Druhm]. Of all the songs on the album, only “Heliacal Rising” and “The First Point of Aries” captivated me to the end. That’s because of the contrast of atmosphere between them, and also that the instruments breathe a bit more. Darkspace succeeds at their space metal game because they utilize moments of silence to build and maintain an atmosphere. I’m not saying, “Be Darkspace.” Rather, switch things up a bit instead of non-stop tremolo barrages, never-ending blastbeats, and segments that overstay their welcome. When your shortest song is still a hair under nine minutes, variety and breathing space aren’t only welcome, but they’re necessary.
The question here isn’t whether or not Luminiferous Aether is a good album, as parts of it captivate. Rather, the question is how often do I see myself coming back to this? I want to like Luminiferous Aether more than I do. Buczarski clearly possesses some mad talent and skill on guitar, and when he nails the atmosphere, the vortex he creates is unfathomably dense. Sadly, that density chokes a bit too often throughout the album. When I’m only coming back for the first two songs, there are problems. Frustrating.