It would be easy for Mare Cognitum to be another “apolitical” metal project. The majority of lyrical content throughout his discography boils down to philosophically speculative wonderment at the infinite beauty of the cosmos. What can essentially be stargazing is easily universalized, no principled positions necessary. Yet the more Jacob Buczarski looks to the stars, the more his poetic ruminations reflect back to home, culminating in his most critically scathing album yet: Solar Paroxysm.
Buczarski has made a career of musically embodying sheer awe. Alternately a lone desperate figure screaming into the cosmic void and the gloriously chaotic cosmos itself. Part of what made last year’s Wanderers collaboration with Spectral Lore so fresh and exciting was the new twist on this approach—exploring the more human and spiritual aspects of each planet in our own solar system. In fact, the aggression and urgency of “Mars (The Warrior)” now feels like a foreshadowing of Solar Paroxysm. Ruminating on the horrific human propensity for organized violence, and the correspondent distillation of Mare Cognitum’s most ruthless musical tendencies, make for one hell of a primer for this new album.
Immediately, we get down to business and back to the basics that made a name for Mare Cognitum: the epic riffs. “Antaresian” soars immediately into a beautiful atmospheric melody with a relentless energy. Bold interplay between elegantly arcing tremolos and pummeling barrages build the dramatic mood. With rapid cymbal work and explosive riffs, “Frozen Star Divinization” somehow bursts with even more intensity than the first track, like everything we’ve ever heard was just a warm up. “Terra Requiem” is the midpoint and a surprising interruption. As the pounding percussion comes in, the album grinds down to a crawl. In the heat of the moment, hot on the heels of the furious first two tracks, it feels like a bit of a trudge. On its own legs, though, or taken as blackened doom in the vein of Mizmor, the song rightfully rips us away from the ascendant mood. The back and forth between pummeling kicks and steady beats create a grand, sweeping sense of tragedy. The longest and most complex track is the closer, “Ataraxia Tunnels,” a true showcase of Buczarski’s phenomenal songwriting. The melodic riff shines, just gentle enough to be delightfully catchy but still thrillingly furious. Each component works together toward the solemn air. The tremolo soars over a haunting synthesized chorus, undergirded by a heavy foundation of distortion. The melody bends down to meet the rhythmic line, twisting together, before climbing in steps toward an even greater height.
The story of the album begins with a Mare Cognitum classic: spiritual attunement to the infinite cosmos. “Antaresian” is a post-human utopian tale of an advanced people in a different galaxy, united in their understanding of the universe, gracefully facing the inevitable death of their binary suns, and confident of the immortal impact of their achievements. An entirely alien story, as he goes on to demonstrate, but perhaps an inspiring one. This beautiful dream contrasts sharply with “Terra Requiem,” a concise and straightforward poem on the vanity and inevitable downfall of humanity. “So great is the debt we have incurred / So too will we wilt and fade into dust … And the earth will forget our name.”
The dramatic conclusion further complicates the juxtaposition between our doom and the first act’s utopia. We could have built any future imaginable, but instead we choke on the fumes of failure. With the expansive, luminary power of the human brain to imagine futures free of scarcity and fear, how have we not yet learned to be better? And at this point, is it still possible? As Buczarski ponders the wasted potential of humanity’s imagination, his metaphors reach Bryan Funck-level philosophizing. “Reduction of wisdom into basest impulse / The faintest glimpse of the reflections remain / The visage presenting itself as a wretched beast / A gruesome debasement of vigilance released … Bastardized abomination reveling in self-destruction.” The resolution of the album is not the outright defeat of this abomination, but rather its obsolescence. As everything slowly fades out, the final words describe a tranquil departure. Is this simply death? Or the post-human Antaresian ascendance? The room for interpretation is slim, and hope barely seems to be in the question. Yet like any provocative science fiction saga, one need not have a detailed map explaining each verse to appreciate the journey.
Label: I, Voidhanger