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Split releases are often times just a rudimentary thing. My guess is a label says, "Hey you, band over there, you do a split with these guys over here. It will make sense, it will sell, do, do, do it!" Or two bands that are friends are like, "Hey, let's pair up our songs with your songs and release it as a split." Simple enough and I suppose it works, but it will often times make for an uneven listening experience, but when two artists come together to create a conceptual split then you know your going to be treated to something special.
'Sol' is very much one of those special splits, which pairs up two solo artists, both of which happen to be located on opposite sides of the world too. Spectral Lore is the Athens, Greece solo project of Ayloss whom has been intriguing and blowing my mind with his amazingly unique and bludgeoning compositions since his first album 'I' back in '06. Mare Cognitum is from Santa Ana, California and although this solo project of Jacob Buczarski has been around a few years with two full-lengths behind him, I am completely new to his work. 'Sol' as I already said is a true collaboration, both conceptually and musically. The bands have stated, "Themes and riffs have been cross-referenced and transfigured, structures have been put in proportion, lyrics have been written in parallel. Conceptually, it is an attempt at a kind of cosmological philosophy; searching the vast, cold expanses of the universe(-s) for traces of meaning and purpose. What it is out there that is fundamental, absolute and shared? What can we learn about ourselves by looking outward, to the void and the inanimate?"
'Sol' consists of just three songs, but runs for a staggering seventy minutes, with each of the main songs being 25-29 minutes, while the final song, a totally collaborative ambient track clocking in at fifteen. Even if I'm not familiar with Mare Cognitum what I hear through the two first songs is a unified sense of song writing. Both bands pummel the listener with eruptions of double bass drumming, hastily picked tremolo rhythm guitars, vicious screams, howls and growls, aerial synths, soundscapes, ambiance and even one hell of a catchy melodic lead riff in Mare Cognitum's, 'Sol Ouroboros.' What makes the compositions so rich and unique is that the music itself ranges from speedy raw black metal to technical death metal, funeral doom and purely ambient and ethereal and back again. The thing is that it really doesn't sound exactly like anything else I've heard before, except for Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum themselves. Something unique in this day and age of black metal you ask? Certainly, and these two are the game changers right here.
I'll admit getting into two nearly thirty minute songs isn't easy, but thankfully the bands smoothed things over by having plenty of slower atmospheric breaks that just made me feel as if I was lifelessly floating through some black void of space. However, just as things seemed calm the music would resemble the very cosmos exploding with incomparable ferocity. Interestingly many black metal bands have taken the space theme as a lyrical and musical inspiration, but where bands like Limbonic Art were always just boring to me and Darkspace being too repetitive, Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore absolutely nail everything that could possible come to mind when thinking about space. It really is a fair balance between celestial darkness, light and everything between, around and after. Its impossible to really put this immense release into words as it simple must be experienced.
The gorgeous artwork depicts the sun, which warms us and gives us light, but will perhaps one day detonate and utterly destroy us too. And when nothings left, a faint glimmer of sound will be heard as the universe starts to rebuild itself once again... Absolutely astonishing.
Originally wrote for Lunar Hypnosis: lunarhypnosis.blogspot.com
There certainly exists a pantheon of 'great' split recordings throughout the expanded metalverse, but normally the format presents me with a bit of a quandary. Are these just two or more bands of the same genre being haphazardly slapped together? Because they are friends? Pen pals? Are they covering one another? Was this just a label's idea with a few favors being called in? It's not really my favorite means of ingesting music, but once in a while there will come a team-up which seeks to further the medium by providing a cohesive and consistent experience that feels more like a direct collaboration, and Sol is just such an experience, a dramatic and emotionally ebullient immersion into cosmic, atmospheric black metal that persists for 70 fucking minutes...
I was actually familiar going into this recording with both of the constituent artists. Spectral Lore's latest full-length Sentinel was a game changer among Greek black metal works, and though my reaction to Mare Cognitum's sophomore An Extraconscious Lucidity was more reserved, I still appreciated the potential here for a usurper to the ambient/black throne of fellow Californians Leviathan and Xasthur. Both are one man acts, which might have helped them ease this into a singular experience; for while you'll pick up a few of the distinct traits of each artist, they've done a superb job here of unifying their songwriting into a seamless expression of otherworldly resonance interjected with spurts of incendiary metallic techniques like blast beats, wretched star-extinguishing snarls and roiling, tremolo picked rhythm guitars which do not belie their Scandinavian influences (Emperor, etc). Synthesizers and soundscapes are in abundance, as one might have predicted, and they're used for both melodic lines to enhance the other instruments, and cosmic waves of careening harmony that thrive on their lonesome.
What I found interesting was the sequence here, with each act contributing a nearly 30 minute track, and then pairing up for shorter, purely ambient finale "Red Giant" which is structurally the simplest of the three, but no less poignant or brilliant. "Ouroboros" and "Medius" each have a lot more dynamic architecture to them, and are quite intimidating, but it was this last, soothing track that truly gelled over the experience. That said, both Jacob and Ayloss prove themselves independent forces with myriad instrumental skills, shifting riff formations that mirror their respective solo works. "Ouroboros" is slightly more substantial, with wider contrasts of calm and intensity that fluctuate between black and death metal progressions; while "Medius" has a lot more of that harmonic discharge and raw intensity to the guitars which is redolent of Sentinel, though undeniable a more ambitious format. The production felt a little cleaner for the first tune, but apart from that it would be impossible to choose a favorite, since they complement one another so well...like stars streaking in tandem through a nebula of loss and regret.
Admittedly, not all of the individual riffs were that inspirational, which is why it is so crucial that they balanced in the clouds of murk and void atmosphere; but there were certainly some uplifting moments in which the guitars, vocals and arrangements erupted into a glorious crescendo like an astral leviathan rising out of some spiral galaxy. Star-whales striding the space-lanes, mother fucker! The compositions aren't quite so nihilistic as something like Darkspace, instead balancing a brightness or celestial bodies against the suffocating vacuum between them, but that's exactly why I enjoyed this so much, because at each intersection I could never guess precisely where the floods of notes were going, and its held up for over four full listens as of this review, a laborious love letter to a universe which will has birthed us as surely as it will crush us.