Mare Cognitum
Phobos Monolith

Black metal has become a gigantic and multi-faceted genre in the past 30 (!) years, and each sub-style offers its own emotional and aesthetic experiences. Raw, orthodox, war, symphonic, folk, progressive, depressive, Cascadian, shoegaze, post, industrial, ambient, death/black, black n’ roll – the list goes on. Despite the differences in style, what I look for, most of all, is that peculiar and simultaneous balance between hypnotic reverie and unrestrained rage that’s unique to the genre. Phobos Monolith’s cold and astral atmosphere may seem to float with ambient contemporaries like Arcana Coelestia or Chaos Moon, but the music soars to the majestic and cinematic peaks of favorites like Emperor, Wodensthrone, and Blut Aus Nord. In other words, the album exemplifies the best of what I crave from black metal.

On a purely technical and academic level, I can’t help but marvel at the lengthy, intricately-layered and well-paced compositions, the perfectly balanced mix, and overall superb craftmanship here – plus that fantastic cover, reminiscent of Limbonic Art – but it’s the emotional content that really captured me. “Weaving the Thread of Transcendence” starts with elegiac acoustics against cosmic drone, but when it crescendos into turbulence, it’s still shot through with melancholy. Echo and reverb paint a distant and ominous atmosphere, with the vocals half-buried and obscure, which lets the tremolo lines (sweet, never shrill) ring out above the thunder. It’s an atmosphere at once moving and monstrous, and while the melodies are sad and beautiful, the harsh and ragged vocals never flag in their ferocity. There are lovely moments in other tracks as well: a diminished chord change around 5:50 in “Entropic Hallucinations” that took my breath away; the stately, ceremonial opening of “Noumenon”; a warm, almost hopeful clean-picked melody at the 5:05 mark; and waves of cascading piano a few minutes later. Almost all black metal is cold and forbidding, but this stirs the soul while it chills the bones.

There’s a lot here that reminds me of Agalloch and October Falls, but faster and more relentless; if those bands capture the sublime grace of the wooded Earth, then this has you looking up past those branches and out to the alien emptiness of the stars. But fly out to those glittering points, and you’d find nothing but obliteration. As cathartic as Phobos Monolith can be, it can also be downright cataclysmic. Both “Entropic Hallucinations” and “Ephemeral Entities” start as much heavier, denser infernos, with more blastbeats, scrawling dissonance, deeper and more bestial rasps, and Anaal Nathrakh-like malevolence, but as more tremolo layers flow back in, the tracks become sweeping and elegant again. The 15-minute long “Ephemeral Entities” in particular is just awe-inspiring; a ceaselessly shifting composition that adds layer after layer, mood after mood, until the galloping riffs and keening, triumphant melodies in its final few minutes evoke the symphonic grandeur of classic Emperor. I had to listen to it multiple times just to try and absorb it all.

Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give is that Mare Cognitum stole my attention away from Blut Aus Nord. As expected, Memoria Vetusta III went right from my most-anticipated list to the top of my year-end list, and yet I’ve been spending more time lately with Phobos Monolith. Jacob Buczarski, the lone California-based artist behind Mare Cognitum, may not have a mysterious moniker like Ihsahn or Vindsval, but a couple more albums like this, and he may find himself in their same lofty ranks.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
October 28th, 2014


  1. Commented by: bast

    It’s taking me some time to swallow but the hype appears to be true.

  2. Commented by: Luke_22

    Great review will definitely check this out.

  3. Commented by: E. Thomas

    Love the riff when “Weaving the Thread of Transcendence’ explodes 5 or so minutes in

  4. Commented by: Guilliame

    Love this band! Nice review

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