Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hercyn - Magda


Hercyn is a project out of the forested and naturesque setting of Jersey City. I have some issues with black metal / folk projects that come out of heavily industrialized places. It just comes across as galootish. What do urban dwellers know of the scent of ferns or the feel of pine needles falling upon one's skin? But, with the influences left by bands such as Agalloch and Alcest, even the rich and vibrant concrete hues of sprawl in all directions can evaporate away in the imaginations of impressionable youth and disenfranchised minds. In the case of Magda, Hercyn's debut release from 2013, it is once again easy to forget we are in fact not sitting around a lovely and majestic brook in a Bob Ross painting, and are actually watching garbage trucks speed by while waiting at a bus stop beside an under-maintained highway. And unless a stray plastic bag which probably sat at the bottom of a wet dumpster manages to slap against your face, closing your eyes might just be enough with Hercyn to forget where you are for a few minutes. The track hints at greener pastures.

"Magda" is quite a strong track. The ideas have clearly been given the opportunity to mature, and even moments that sound jammy and improvised, such as the leads half way through the twenty-two minute opus, are executed with precision. Emphasis has been afforded to each instrument at times though Tony Stanziano's bass playing is key. With a less involved bass section, Hercyn may have run into issues of different movements feeling out of touch with the larger whole, such as the more spacy ending of the track. The constant bass is like a chain, pulling the listener through these different places and vibes. Also held in high regard here is the drumming of Michael Toscarelli, which is inventive and varied across the whole song. Guitarists Michael Diciancia and Ernest Wawiorko fill out the talented lineup with Wariorko also providing vocals. While there isn't a large amount of riffs on the release, with the band more prone on riding out melodies and chords, leads are on full display. Though they are done extremely well, they cover up the fact that the composition as a whole meanders somewhat aimlessly to my ears.

Wariorko's vocals are an element not fully utilized here. With a large variety of styles and techniques on display elsewhere on the release such as some clean guitar playing, strummed chords, faster and slower moments and atmospheric as well as more driving parts, the one-sided raspy vocals don't add much. Also, like earlier expressed, Magda may have benefited from having the single track broken up into a few separate songs. Evidence of this is provided by listening to the acoustic version, Magda (Acoustic). Excellent acoustic playing could have been mixed into this release, helped with build up of each song, and offered a more complete listening experience in a full length album. Wariorko's vocals on the clean version of the song are more of a spoken, airy style with some melodic tints bristling about. Listening to both version back to back makes me wish the band worked more of the acoustic touches into the original.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Emanation - The Emanation of Begotten Chaos From God

About twelve years ago, Erich Von Daniken's Miracles of the Gods graced my nightstand / pile-of-clothes-by-my-bedside / place-where-I-put-whatever-book-I-was-reading-at-the-time. What was most fascinating about the book wasn't his expanding hypothesis of ancient astronauts and extraterrestrial intervention which Chariots of the Gods made a far stronger argument for, but instead the images taken of early 20th century photographs reportedly showing the essence of souls vacating the body. Enter Emanation, a Spanish project by C. G. Santos. Depicted within his recent release, The Emanation of Begotten Chaos From God, were similar photographs to accompany a soundscape of ritualistic ambient coalescing through harsh and hypnotic drones to form what felt like the background to a steampunk nightmare. The occult vibe is powerful across the six tracks and hour of material. It falls somewhere between Earth's Pentastar and Bosque's harshest scrapings.

You can take this or perceive this as many thinks but I set my listening experience against the background of a seance gone wrong. The opening lengthy dirge of "Cyclic Metamorphosis" draws the spirit into the room. Through foggy interior chambers we flow in first person as the aroused themselves, coming to materialize amidst curious onlookers. "Ritual Asphyxia" finds us feeling the anger after being rudely awoken and manifesting that anger into a new creature, of physical being. In "Immortal Blood Coil" we gaze upon the new creature, as an onlooker, in terror as it wisps around us like a serpent of dense steam, whispering in each participants ears the morbid way in which it would destroy each individual. As "Synethesia of the Lesser Sphere"rumbles forth each person, frozen in horror, succumbs to the summoned creatures method of murder. One by one, the responsible parties are whisked to a dimension of endless torment. "Inorganic" follows each of their souls realization into immortal suffering as "Sands of Totemic Silence" mimics their endless drifting, as the song crawls onward.

The album is marked with each song being different and recognizable though extremely consistent. Each of the pericopes works to fill specific needs of the pacing of the release which is characterized by the fact that it's not at all tiring or boring to the listener; a feat quite impressive considering the length of the release and issues which ambient music often encounter. At over an hour, dark harsh ambient like that created by Santos for his Emanation project can become severely tedious but here, I've found it easy to keep focus, and interest in the release - perhaps because I found imagery to accompany my listening. Santos has managed to use the techniques that often create auditory tunnel vision to instead create points of interest. Repetition, saturation, confusion and the texturalization of each element reigns supreme. I found the percussive elements rewarding throughout and mystifying. Songs like "Inorganic" fling drums and sounds around in the timing of random asteroid colliding in space, and caused my to consciously try to find patterns in the effects. After eighteen minutes my efforts yielded nothing.

This is an album for aficionados and connoisseurs of noise and ambient. It's enjoyability is not for youthful listeners of the genre, though those enjoying the genre in passing and looking for a challenging listen could find that here. With a suffocating and substantial heft, a tortured and painful texture and overwhelming phantom melodies, it takes both some background and a deep-rooted interest in noise and ambient for Emanation and The Emanations of Begotten Chaos from God to be welcomed. This is a more mature and thoughtful release than One Soul, One Body, One Spirit. This will be a rewarding session for some. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Qualeaceans - Capture of Ziz

Imagine that you are leaving an art museum, and somehow you have just barely managed to avoid the modern art wing. A shudder runs down your spine as flashes of Jackson Pollock’s random drippings and Duchamp’s urinal violently pop into your mind. Shrugging it off, you head home to safely unwind by listening to some new music. The bad news is that you haven’t escaped, the first thing you listen to is Qualeaceans’ “Capture of Ziz,” another silly experimentation with “forms” and “concepts.” The good news is that it isn’t anywhere near as terrible as the modern art wing, but unsurprisingly “Capture of Ziz” also has the similar major flaw of prioritizing experimentation much more greatly than musicality. While the single-song album has some very interesting highlights, the overall experience is mostly an unrewarding exercise in exploring musical ideas rather than executing those ideas to create music.

The album’s single 80 minute track titled “In The Cavern Of The Flightless” is divided into five distinct sub-parts (you know, what most bands would call songs). For the sake of both easy reference and summary evaluation we can roughly title them as follows:

Industrial Heavy: Start - 24:00
Silly Noises I: 24:00 - 40:00
Acoustic Weirdness: 40:00 - 53:30
Silly Noises II: 53:30 - 1:04:00
Sludge Heavy: 1:04:00 - End

As you can easily see, the album has a symmetric pattern of varying sections. This is a very helpful compositional tool to keep interest and cohesion for a band that needs to be paying desperate attention to both concerns. After all, it isn’t easy to keep a listener’s attention for an entire album, let along a single 80 minute track. So, having someone sit through repeated listens of Silly Noises I -& II requires some forethought. Oddly enough, the overall structure makes sense, but when you take a look at any given moment of the album there are few riffs to speak of. “Capture of Ziz” is more about establishing moods than any one particular melody. In other words, the band has a general sense of direction, but can’t work out the details.

Generally speaking, there are recurring problems across these five songs, with the most fatal being grueling repetition. It is like the band wrote small pieces of music and then copied and pasted chunks of recordings over and over again until they filled up a 20 minute song/movement. This issue plagues almost the entire album, but a very obvious example of this lazy copy-and-past repetition is in “Industrial Heavy” at around 9:30-10:30 where an uneven cymbal hit repeats around a billions times. Speaking of the drumming, its pretty damn awful. Without any real sense of rhythm, a lot of the repetitive beats feel like something a guitar player would come up with. They accent the underlying music rather than establishing a pulse; downbeat, backbeat, or otherwise. The strongest track, “Acoustic Weirdness,” also has no percussion.

The next big problem is the approach to lead melodies throughout the album. Essentially they are random and very chromatic, as if someone was trying to emulate Slayer solos but didn’t have the ability to hit notes clearly or play with that kind of overflowing speed. Most often this is with a lead guitar, but it also happens with electronic noises, flutes, harmonica, and what might be sound effects from Lost in Space. Danger, Will Robinson! Even though metal has a lot of aimless melodies used to great effect, they fall short here because they just sit on top of the ctrl+c ctrl+v song structures. This is illuminating because the more orthodox and heavy parts of the album highlight why the random and chaotic bits still sound so very flat, i.e. the excess repetition.

What then makes this album mediocre instead of completely terrible? Qualeaceans have some interesting and excitingly fresh ideas, even if they are over stretched across long troughs of compositional laziness dressed up as experimentation. In more optimistic terms, this could have been a fairly compelling EP with the proper editing. The undeniable value of music like this is how it can discover new sounds, which from a music lover’s standpoint is nothing less than thrilling. Take for example the fascinating mood in “Silly Noises”at about 28:00. Drawn out echoes with a tremolo picked lead underneath, which later gives way to ominous tremolo bass notes. Pretty damn cool.

The central highlight though is the “Acoustic Weirdness” portion of the album, where unsettling clean leads echo behind bizarre lyrics. The vocal approach here differs from the mundane approaches elsewhere. They are spoken word, but done as if the speaker had no prior experience with English. Syllables are softly accented in unusual ways, feeling more like an alien accent than a foreign one. Its a very intriguing mood, and lines about stimulating erogenous zones are so odd that they actually amplify the overall feeling. Most importantly, the tempo and energy levels vary here and that allows this movement to escape the repetition problems on the rest of the album.

Still, the interesting bits aren’t enough to save the album. Although only a few of the silly noises are unbearable enough to be overly irritating, it ends up being a question of repetition tolerance. Sure, budding creativity is often promising, which is why a band like Qualeaceans making a mediocre album probably has a brighter future than bands releasing similar quality stuff while only emulating their influences. Overall though, it isn’t the kind of album one would want to revisit after really digesting it. Moreover, the songwriting problems are severe enough that the band has a long long way to go. Like the modern art wing of the museum, “Capture of Ziz” may be worth poking your head in for a quick look, but your time is probably better spent elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mare Cognitum Interview

Mare Cognitum is a solo black metal band hailing from a small planet called Earth, and just recently released its third full-length album "Phobos Monolith." Below we have an illuminating interview with the man behind the band, Jacob Buczarski:

For starters, and as an introduction for anyone unfamiliar with your work, what musical projects have you been involved with? What made you create Mare Cognitum and how was that project born?

Jacob Buczarski:
I’ve been in numerous short-lived projects for about 8 years now, most of which will have no evidence of ever existing. This was the very problem that prompted me to start Mare Cognitum – I was dumping effort into project after project that simply fell apart due to some reason or another outside of my control. If I took everything into my own hands, success wouldn’t be determined by so many uncontrollable variables.

Apteronotus: It is probably very safe to say that space is an important theme in your music and its imagery. What is it about space that draws your attention? Beyond space having an artistic importance to you, do you have an interest in astronomy?

Jacob Buczarski: I have been interested in astronomy since an early age, and although I think my knowledge of it is really not at any sort of impressive level I find it very easy to draw inspiration from it – even the scientific side rather than simply photography. My music often tries to be overwhelmingly majestic and it’s easy to do that when you are trying to illustrate something like a grand cosmic event. So, when I need inspiration, I need only to briefly read on a subject in astronomy or astrophysics and my mind begins to fill with imagery.

Apteronotus: What was your motivation in creating Phobos Monolith, and was it a different process compared to your other releases?

Jacob Buczarski:
I had a great excitement after creating the Spectral Lore split, “Sol”, because I felt that the work was far more progressive than anything I had ever attempted, particularly in aspects like structure and layering of the compositions. This drove me to explore these developments further in full album format, to sort of “flesh out” the details of the techniques I had honed. And when I say excited, I mean that the composition of the album began before Sol was even released, so there was definitely a huge draw for me to continue on. However, besides the new development in songwriting techniques, the process was largely the same, and consisted of typical recording in my home.

Apteronotus: At this point in your music career you have self-released music under your label Lunar Meadows Records and worked with Milam records and now I, Voidhanger. What kinds of things have you learned about releasing, distributing, and promoting music from these experiences?

Jacob Buczarski: Self-releasing music is difficult, but rewarding! In retrospect, my release of An Extraconscious Lucidity was perfectly timed and opened up several doors, including the split with Spectral Lore and the subsequent signing with I, Voidhanger. Now that my reputation has grown considerably, I cannot imagine self-releasing at the quality and quantity I currently do without sacrificing the rate and quality at which I release music. It simply doesn’t seem feasible! The run of 150 was just right for me to be able to manage, and that was just a simple cardboard case design. So I suppose what I’ve learned is that while self-releasing serves a big purpose in small bands, there comes a certain point in a band’s lifespan (especially one-man bands) where you need at least a little help!

The Mare Cognitum/Spectral Lore split has a high degree of cohesion, with the third track being a joint creation. How did the split come to be and what was the creative process like?

Jacob Buczarski: Ayloss approached me some time after the release of An Extraconscious Lucidity simply with kind words and an interest in what I was doing. After some communication back and forth we found out that our thoughts on music and creativity were extremely similar and it sort of was evident to both of us that if we collaborated, we could create something great. So we laid a groundwork from the start that this would not simply be a split where two bands bring leftover songs together, but something where each piece of it is extremely intentional and calculated between each side. Aside from this, we both agreed to scathingly criticize the other’s work to hone the release to perfection. This resulted in several versions and alterations over a long period of time, a grueling process really. Admittedly, Ayloss did more criticizing of my work than I had to do to his (with good reason!), but I’m honestly grateful this is the case. His suggestions helped guide me into a new way of thinking about composition and this is really the foundation for what you hear today on Phobos Monolith.

Apteronotus: How has the reception been for your work in Spirit Lapse?

Jacob Buczarski: Hah, I am sort of in disbelief that you dug that name up. I don’t have any involvement with that project anymore and I’m not sure it is even active anymore. I was more helping out and acting as a producer for someone else’s creative work, recording songs and doing backup instrumentation. I suppose it was received well in the small circles it was exposed to. You might see the name come up again but I will not be involved.

Apteronotus: What has made you choose to have Mare Cognitum be a solo project so far? Do you balance writing the music for each instrument or is there one that you tend to focus on more so than others?

Jacob Buczarski: Like I mentioned earlier I needed the assurance that my work would not go to waste which is why I began the project solo. And it was actually the very fact that I could give each instrument the proper attention that made me know it was possible. I have extremely high standards to what I record and it must be absolutely perfect or it is redone. This is the case for every element. Down to single drum hits and note bends and single vocal phrases, I will tweak and adjust until it is exactly as I envisioned. Clearly the band is extremely guitar driven but the project would be worthless without a perfect foundation.

Apteronotus: In the past you have done remixes of your music based on fan requests, how important are mixing and mastering to you?

Jacob Buczarski: I place an extremely high value on the production quality of Mare Cognitum. While black metal is famous for raw, unrefined recordings, I spend a great deal of time tweaking and equalizing every element to be exact. This process is almost an equal half of the work when compared with the composing side of things. Extremely important! With a weak production, this sort of music simply would not work.

Apteronotus: Did you have a favorite band when you were first getting into music? How did you start getting into metal?

Jacob Buczarski: I remember listening to a lot of hardcore bands when I was young, anything with a heavy guitar sound really. This was actually the first music I had an authentic interest in. I started developing a refined taste by high school, listening to lots of death metal, thrash, and still maintaining that interest in hardcore, as that scene thrived during that time. I definitely always had this focus on really melodic bands. Black Metal came at the tail end of this when I overcame the stigma of the genre and found out that it was capable of so much more in terms of atmosphere and melody than genres like melodic death metal offered. As I started exploring the genre it was clearly the most open ended creatively and I was hooked from there.

Apteronotus: Are there any particular bands that have captured your attention lately? Any local bands?

Jacob Buczarski: In recent black metal, I’ve been digging the bands Bolzer, Thantifaxath, Sun Worship, Manetheren and Cult of Fire. I’ve also been spinning other stuff like Nails, Mammoth Grinder, Midnight, and Revenge. The newest Electric Wizard and Eyehategod albums have caught my attention as well. I could go on. Lots of great music right now! As for my local scene, well… not exactly much going on that I know of to be honest. Does Orange County have black metal shows?

Apteronotus: Where do you write and record your music, what does the setup look like?

Jacob Buczarski: Extremely simple. It’s actually the simplest it’s ever been, I don’t even have my studio monitors set up right now! Picture a really small bedroom with a computer, guitar, bass, keyboard, and an Agalloch poster on the wall, and you’ve pretty much got it.

Apteronotus: You are watching television and suddenly realize that there is a wasp on your arm. What do you do?

Jacob Buczarski: Shit, I have never been stung by a wasp or bee so I have this fear that I am horribly allergic and would instantly die the day I am stung by one. I would probably spasm and run out of the room like a little kid. I wouldn’t be crying, I swear…

Apteronotus: In another interview you mentioned that you are a hardcore craft beer elitist, do you have any preferred brews or breweries that you'd recommend? Do you have a favorite style of beer?

Jacob Buczarski: Yes! I love beer. I frequent a lot of local and semi-local breweries: The Bruery, Valiant Brewing, Noble Aleworks, Left Coast, Belching Beaver, Stone… All great! I know I’m forgetting some other good ones too. My favorite beers are dark, porters and stouts, that sort of thing. And I’m a big fan of the bourbon barrel aged trend happening, especially the stuff the Bruery does. Damn, time to drink a beer.

Thank you for doing this interview, do you have any final comments?

Jacob Buczarski: Thanks for your interest in me and my music! I have the best and most supportive fans, so I’ll not be stopping anytime soon. Cheers!