Δευτέρα, 20 Αυγούστου 2012

Mare Cognitum - An Extraconscious Lucidity (2012)

Here is a gem for these who dig deep into the mines of underground black metal, perhaps not a diamond yet, but a precious find nonetheless. This is the second album of US one-man band Mare Cognitum, an impressive display of blackened neo-melodicism of progressive expansions ala Krallice or Wolves in the Throne Room, deathmetal-ish dense micro-structures and ambiental/post rockish atmospheric reverberations. Opener "Collapse into Essence" grabs you by the neck and never lets you go during its 12 minutes. It starts with a steady, slow pulse like the distant breath of an intergalactic star, topped with "spacey" effects and a droning synth melody, like the musical description of a cosmogonic event, giving its way not after long (3 minutes actually, for bad ambient intros this is long) to the primordial, solitary sounding clean guitar melody that universally and for all metal proclaims "Here we fucking go, and this is going to be loud". It is indeed so; melodic, epic riffs building up in intensity until being unleashed into raging blastbeats, mostly simple but fully engaging, melodic but without losing edge and getting transformed into shoegaze mush. Which is the biggest problem with bands of similar aspirations (either they're from Cascadia or anywhere else), melody turning into flabby self-affirmation, going nowhere, hanging around in passivity. This is lustful of life, dynamic, pursuing change, expansion, journey. It is quite a challenge to write metal that elates the listener, well while staying metal and Mare Cognitum does a good job on finding that special intermediary point.

While the opener persists in the heavy and emotional atmosphere of cosmic yearning until its end, "Pyre of Ascendance" begins angrier and faster, retaining the melodicism but offering more violence in its way, like a kind of anxious anticipation of a dangerous necessity. The lyrics, all extremely well written, very visual and putting out a "sci-fi" feeling which perfectly goes along with the music speak something about transcendence through inhaling the ashes of a decadent god-race. "Degeneracy Pressure" is a melodic funereal song for a dying star, with tremolo played, reverbed guitar lines taking the lead in typical post rock fashion. Although this is a much simpler song that the two previous ones, it still manages to engage, due to the excellent mix and general production quality (provided by the composer himself) which brings out the atmosphere to the surface rather than the rumble. Noteworthy is also the well-sequenced and mixed drum machine, something that most bedroom black metal bands never seem to get right (not even Blut Aus Nord, for instance). The high pitched, reverbed rasp also found in many other bands of similar vein also does its part contributing to the atmosphere in the background.

"Nascency" and "Ergosphere" follow the melodic direction even further, this time getting even simpler in micro-structure, the riffs alternating between two guitar chords, basically providing background for the guitar leads. This is more like minimalist ambient black metal that is closer to slow orchestral movements in soundtracks or classical music rather than typical metal. It's a very interesting and original concept, and needs excellent melodic writing and mixing in order to work; it does for the most part, but in these two songs Mare Cognitum starts showing a slight compositional inconsistency, in that there feels that some elements could be added to loosen this continuous "sacrality" of the perfect, melodic riffs, to provide more dynamicness as in the first two tracks of the album. For those into minimalistic atmospheric writing though this might actually be heaven. The closer "Pulses in Extraconscious Ludicity" is bringing back the harshness and speed, with twin melodic guitar lines reminding me of swedish black metal like Dissection and Dawn. This I imagive to be an older track as it's not very close in style with the rest of the album. It's probably also the weaker,as it lacks this special feeling of immensity that characterizes the rest of the album.

This album shows a lot of potential for the future and since Mare Cognitum is such a young project with consistency in its output (two full lengths in two years) I think it's easy to say we should expect big things in the future. For now, "An Extraconscious Lucidity" is a really good album, with its only problem being that it doesn't quite fulfill the big expectations it creates with the first two songs, but still provides lots of excellent moments of progressive black metal mastery.

Elend - A World In Their Screams

To me, this is a black metal album. It carries within it one of the deepest and most vital characteristics of that music, which is the torment and awe of the human soul in encounter with forces well beyond its power and understanding. It is perhaps the only album I know of that explores consistently such a limited and particular theme or "feeling" in such multifarious and complex manner, while attempting (and succeeding) to engage the listener personally into experiencing it firsthand.

Outwardly, one could lump the album in several categories according to specific elements of its sound. Cinematic, darkwave, modern classical, industrial, electroacoustic. These are all superficial categorisations that don't do much other than giving one a general impression of the sound or aesthetic, and, in this case, completely fail to intrude into the crux of the matter, the inner drive behind the making of the music. For the sake of a review that is also a bit informative though, I will break down these basic elements. There are three types of "instruments" used by Elend, one is a live orchestra, second are the voices of singers, third is "electroacoustic" sounds composed in a noisy or ambient/atmospheric style. Traditional harmony is abandoned for the most part in this record. There aren't lots of consonant chords or typical chord progressions, instead dissonance prevails. When melodies show up, they flow on ambivalent ground, without completion, drifting like uncertain souls. Most musical themes on this album can be better explained as a kind of auditory translation of events. There are extreme bursts of sound like explosions. Horns stutter madly between chromatic notes. Strings shriek a cloud of dissonant notes like the random voices of a panicked, fleeing crowd. Electronic instruments perform glissando cries; ascending and descending through the skies. Everything is delivered in exteme violence or otherwordly mystery. While the variety of expressive techniques is admirable, it is nothing new really. One accustomed with "modern" music can tell right away that most of these techniques are directly picked out from the vocabulary of composers like Penderewski, Scelsi, Schnittke. Out from the confines of metal/darkwave/industrial music this is nothing really "avant-garde", as separate elements at least. It is in the synthesis of it whole that lies the singularity of Elend, in their almost blasphemic boldness and consistency of their vision.

The success of this album lies in the complexity and merticulous crafting of the music in two levels, micro and macro. The instrumentation and the mixing of the album are spectacular. All the individual sounds are "glued" together in such a way that the tedious image of musicians performing their parts never occurs; the sounds are like actors in a huge, apocalyptic stage that Elend have set up. The underlying logic is very visual; many themes sound more like movements of objects and cosmic phenomenons, instead of just trying to make an emotional point. I get a lot of images in my head while listening to this album, dynamic and expanding. On the macro level, we have more like an external, story-driven progression of the music. It is the music that is subordinate to the vision, in other words, not the other way round. This is music to be experienced, to be listened from first to last second in seclusion, total darkness and in headphones (well, that's my favourite method of listening to such music, at least). It is also structured as not to give the impression of separate songs, but of one big composition, somewhat like an auditory film. Perhaps its greater merit is that it succeeds in creating a kind of continuum in which structure and progression, time in fact seems to vanish. Instead one is swept away by the darkness, living totally in the moment, in an alternation between outbursts of terror and fearful, silent expectance. This is actually the way that man responds to the condition of fear; and this is perhaps the only album (along by some works of Scelsi and Schnittke) I know of that can actually evoke the primordial, gut feeling of fear into me. Take "Ondes De Sang" as the prime example. What is it in these dissonances, in these timbres that makes them sound like the conjoined cries of an instrument of terror? That these seemingly intellectual musicians go for such a brutal, visceral response, is another perhaps superficial but interesting contradiction.

Perhaps a difference that seperates this music from black/death metal is that is descriptive of, rather than embodying the horror. In other words, I feel that what you hear is the voices of the tormented, not of the tormentors. If one reads the lyrics, the poem Iskandar Hasnawi has written for the album, it is actually a pretty humane terror that they describe (from what I've been able to extract), the fear of de-humanization in a future of constant war, murder and destruction. It is valid to think that this is probably far more frightening though (remember that some of the best horror movies prefer to show the face of the victims rather than that of the killers when the latter enter the scene). It is ironic really how rare in extreme metal darkness and (for a lack of a better word) evil are taken seriously. I think they are viewed more like a temporary deliquency, an expulsion of energy that brings one back to balance like watching a C- horror flick, listening to a black metal album and so on. I don't often see in metal this willingless to create a world out of this darkness and dive in it fully. And I'm just talking about basic psychic drive, no reason to compare the scope and immensity of Elend's endavour to that of any metal band. What is the meaning of it all, for Elend though? I cannot answer for themselves, but for me, it is both catharsis (in a psychological and educational manner, to get accustomed with a negative/destructive force for knowledge and experience) and visceral, sensual pleasure. Darkness is alluring although it is basically, deathlike. A paradox we have perhaps yet to resolve as a human species.

In the end, "A World in their Screams" stands on a somewhat uncertain, tragic ground. On the one hand, it is a perfect artistic achievement, sculped to last the passing of time. It is a "magnum opus", a culmination of vision and wisdom from a band that showed a brilliance that was somewhat fragmentary in its previous works. The problem with these works, especially such densely complex and demanding in physical and spiritual labor such as this, is that they (well, if one lets them) obliterate the future of the artist. It is to be expected perhaps that Elend (and even individually, Renaud Tschirner and Iskandar Hasnawi) since then have not released any new music to the public (to be more precise, Hasnaui has just released a personal demo track at the time of writing). On the other hand, where can you go from here? It is probably impossible, if not meaningless to do the exact same things and try to surpass them again and again. Bands, probably in the anguish of retaining their audience, attempt it all the time and fail. Artists need to urgently re-define themselves at this point; what they do, why they do it and how they will achieve it. Elend also have another side in their music, perhaps best represented by their "Winds devouring men" album, additionaly they are a kind of band that one would trust for honesty and innovation (even within the quite secluded field that they have marked for themselves). In any case, I would be very eager to listen to any new music from them, wherever it might stand in terms of style or vision. I also hope that this album eventually gets the recognition I feel it deserves. I do not believe it has found its audience yet - obviously too rough and nihilistic for the classical listener, too cerebral and multifarious for the metal one, too devoid of "easy" sentimentality for the darkwave/gothic one. It stands on its own, it does not reach out to anyone - you may reach out to it, but do so if only you honestly, deeply, dare. Otherwise it will just sound like noise. But real darkness comes from surrender.