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.