Atmospheric Black Metal

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The most commonly played among the sub-genres of black metal, Atmospheric Black Metal artists typically draw the genre into a less aggressive direction. While much of the black metal genre as whole may be deemed as atmospheric (especially when compared to other extreme metal styles like thrash metal and death metal), atmospheric black metal acts take things a step further. Keyboard use is common in the style, though not mandatory, while the music's pace tends to be slow to mid. Well known performers include Burzum, Darkspace and Fen.

Different types of atmospheric black metal artists may incorporate elements of ambient music, folk music, post-rock or sludge metal, as well as drawing on aspects of other black metal styles, such as Summoning, whose music is both atmospheric black metal and symphonic black metal.

Alternative names for the genre include Ambient Black Metal and Post-Black Metal, the latter typically referring to those artists who draw influence from post-rock and/or sludge metal, but is sometimes also used interchangeably with atmospheric black metal.

Inclusive Atmospheric Black Metal Sub-Genres

Blackgaze is a sub-genre of atmospheric black metal so named for its resemblance to shoegaze music. It may include influences from the neoclassical darkwave and post-punk music genres.

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atmospheric black metal Music Reviews

MARE COGNITUM Solar Paroxysm

Album · 2021 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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adg211288
It has been almost ten years since US atmospheric black metal solo project Mare Cognitum, the brainchild of Jacob Buczarski, released its debut album The Sea Which Has Become Known in 2011. In a decade there are many things that have not changed, such as Buczarski's continuance as the project's sole member and his apparently eternal dedication to the spacey atmospheric black metal music that has been Mare Cognitum's shtick since day one. What has changed though, is how much increasingly stronger a musician he has become in a decade, which has seen Mare Cognitum release four studio albums and three major split/collaboration releases, two of them being with Greek I, Voidhanger Records labelmate Spectral Lore. The most recent of these was 2020's Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine with Spectral Lore, a mammoth double album that held many claims to being the best work from both artists involved.

Still, nothing could really have prepared anyone for the release of Mare Cognitum's fifth main studio album Solar Paroxysm, released in 2021. In short, this is an album that even on the first spin managed to floor me with its sound and level of creativity in such a way that it was like listening to Mare Cognitum for the first time again, which for me was with third album Phobos Monolith from 2014. Although objectively Mare Cognitum has shown improvement with every release up to Wanderers, Phobos Monolith, as with many of the albums we discover artists with, had a bonus nostalgia factor for me that has always made it my personal favourite. However having given Solar Paroxysm a few spins now, I believe we may well be dealing with a release that defeats nostalgia. We are certainly dealing with a record that shows off its album of the year potential from the get-go.

Mare Cognitum has always favoured long tracks and there isn't an album out there that has more than half a dozen on it. On Solar Paroxysm Buczarski has delivered five, each of them passing ten minutes. The total running time of the record is a little shy of one hour. And that's an hour that just seems to fly by so fast that you'd be forgiven if you're left wondering if you accidentally leant on the skip button of your player. There is no song here that feels like it's anywhere near as long as it actually is. At no point does it feel like the writing has been purposely elongated or that the album has become pretentious. The balanced sound between spacey atmospheric melodies and more aggressive tendencies in the riffs is about as divine as this genre can probably ever be, while Jacob's growls adds a primordial edge on top that invokes the extremity of space and the formation of strange alien worlds. This will be a familiar vibe to existing fans, but the immediacy of the record is unprecedented.

Anyone who has been listening to Mare Cognitum this last few years knows already that Jacob Buczarski is a man who knows his craft. But he is also a man who shows that no matter how good his last work was, there's always room to keep honing that craft and against all expectations of reviewers like yours truly, who have already graded his work in the top tier, that improvement can be achieved. And yet Solar Paroxysm is not just good or even simply better than Mare Cognitum's previous releases. It is next level good: an album that's very easy to listen to multiple times back to back and certainly one that will keep being come back to again and again. It is true that only time, much of which is still needed to truly judge such a record, can tell whether something will remain as good once the honeymoon period is over, but I for one, have really good feelings about Solar Paroxysm.

MARE COGNITUM Solar Paroxysm

Album · 2021 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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Necrotica
I’ve long been fascinated with records that explore the sounds of space from an extreme metal point of view. There’s an inherent excitement to basking in an expansive atmosphere while being bombarded by aggressive guitar work and pummeling blastbeats, as bands like Blood Incantation and Mithras have definitely proven. No matter how intense the music gets, there’s something strangely soothing and dreamlike about it; it’s almost as if the music could threaten to become background noise if you’re not paying enough attention. But much like the aforementioned bands, Mare Cognitum - consisting only of California native Jacob Buczarski - brings just the right amount of musical variety and neat embellishments to (mostly) avoid the pitfall of overt repetition. The fact that Solar Paroxysm has no song under 10 minutes might seem like a doozy, but believe me: this album flies by very quickly.

Every song here is a mini-epic rife with the tropes you’d typically hear from a progressive/atmospheric black metal project: long tremolo-picked passages, layered wall-of-sound instrumentation for that “vast” soundscape, and of course the harsh shrieks to top it all off. There’s a remarkable sense of progression in these tracks despite the album’s often long-winded nature, largely due to the fact that most of them come from a similar beginning. The majority of the tracks kick off with a familiar tremolo/blastbeat-driven base, and while that does make the intros a tad predictable, it allows Buczarski to use them as a launching pad to fly off in whatever direction he sees fit. Opener “Antaresian” opts to settle into what I could consider a “funeral waltz” using increasingly progressive 3/4 and 6/8 chugs before climaxing with a beautifully melancholic solo; meanwhile, “Frozen Star Divinization” is a long showcase of mesmerizing tremolo guitar harmonies, almost as if they’re locked in a never-ending duel in the middle of a wintry tundra. “Luminous Accretion” is probably the most technical song on offer, constantly shifting tempos and riff patterns while giving the drums a serious workout; finally, “Ataraxia Tunnels” is probably the most traditionally black metal-oriented track here while maintaining the sense of atmosphere that defines the rest of the album.

“Terra Requiem”, however, doesn’t fit quite as nicely on a stylistic level… and that’s because it’s the best song on the record. Most of it is played at a snail’s pace and really gets at the heart of this record’s dark take on a cosmic sound. The tremolo harmonies and double bass drumming are still prevalent here, just used to color a more funereal and despair-filled picture. Everything comes together beautifully in the middle of the song, as the keyboards soar above the melodic guitar solo; it strikes a brilliant balance between awe and hopelessness that I haven’t heard in quite some time. Speaking of the “picture”, the lyrics of Solar Paroxysm are very appropriate to the music as well. It’s your typical vaguely space-y imagery, but there are some pretty cool stanzas I’ll single out. Check out these ones from “Luminous Accretion”:

“Corporeal fractures Essence separates Violent transposition Self-observed from above, lingering

Communicants, wretched spires Materialize, surround, engulf Great tongues through which Creations are spoken (and thus conceived)”

Or these ones from “Terra Requiem”:

“The last leaves have fallen The last vine has withered The ocean has boiled for so long Choking our breath with fetid steam

We claw for shelter from the heartless sun Which cracks our skin and dries our wells So great is the debt we have incurred So too will we wilt and fade into dust”

Again, pretty vague and hard to decipher, but the imagery itself really fits the sound of the album so I don’t mind in the slightest.

Whether or not you will enjoy Solar Paroxysm will probably depend on your tolerance for the familiar tropes Mare Cognitum often employs to flesh out his sound. It’s true that nothing on this album breaks much new ground for atmospheric black metal, but the quality lies in how it’s executed here. The songs, while often starting the same, eventually lead us to incredibly neat locales by the time they’re done because of Buczarski’s adventurousness with this well-worn genre. Solar Paroxysm is my first experience with Mare Cognitum, and it looks like I have one hell of a back catalogue ahead of me if this album’s any indication.

ADABROC Dreamlands

EP · 2010 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
ADABROC is the one-man atmospheric black metal project of Dòmhnall Alasdair MacIlleMhoire from Isle of Lewis in northern Scotland but now resides in Manchester, England. Beginning in 2010, ADABROC has released a series of EPs with each one becoming incrementally a tiny bit longer but this debut DREAMLANDS is more like a single than an EP because it consists of one title track that is a whopping 10 minutes and 40 minutes. Considering all these releases are digital only it really doesn’t matter what length a so-called EP or album is any longer.

For atmospheric black metal, this one is fortified with quickened tempos, caustic black metal buzzsaw guitar distortion, blastbeats and raging raspy vocals that sound more like death metal growls for the most part. The atmospheric part of the equation comes from a the keyboard parts that give the rampaging track a bit of diversity outside of the black metal rage-a-thon. This one is pretty much a procession of frenetic riffs in standard second wave black metal form and doesn’t really deviate too much with only a few guitar licks on the higher register interrupting the regularly scheduled program.

For a beginning EP, this one is pretty generic as this style of atmospheric black metal had been played out at least 15 years earlier but nothing about it is downright bad either. The up side is that the musicianship is top notch, more in the vein of Dissection than Darkthrone but the lack of creativity leaves a rather monotonous soundscape matching the rather homogenous nature of the cover art. This is hardly something to get excited about and even though later releases are longer and feature more tracks, this one certainly doesn’t invite a further exploration of this Scottish black metal attack which abruptly ended in 2014 with no releases and no full-length album to follow.

BLUT AUS NORD Odinist: The Destruction of Reason by Illumination

Album · 2007 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
While beginning as the one-man solo project of Vindsval, the French experimental freak show known as BLUT AUS NORD really came into its own once the lineup was expanded to a trio that included drummer / keyboardist W.D. Feld and bassist GhÖst. Already having crafted some of the most chilling atmospheric black metal albums in the vein of Burzum, the trio version of BLUT AUS NORD shocked the black metal world with its lauded masterwork “The Work That Transforms God” which ironically transformed the world of second wave Norwegian style black metal into a stranger nebulous world of surreality that incorporated as much dark ambient psychedelia as it did black metal heft.

After reaching the apex of its industrial dark ambient infused alternative universe where black metal was forced to perform unthinkable acts with thick gnarled atonal guitar antics painfully decrying the jagged prog infused percussive beats, the album “MoRT” found this stylistic approach finding its logical conclusion with seemingly nowhere left to go but BLUT AUS NORD proved to be a wily beast that was content with experimenting and then perfecting said experiment and then moving on altogether without abandoning the underpinning of the band’s experimental and progressive black metal stylistic approach. While downright normal compared to “MoRT,” the band followed up with ODINIST - THE DESTRUCTION OF REASON BY ILLUMINATION which borrowed its title from the magickal world of none other than Aleister Crowley.

Decidedly less otherworldly and more anchored in contemporary atmospheric black metal that had taken the 2000s by storm, ODINIST retains the general characteristics that had graced the band’s previous two albums, namely the buzzsaw guitar riffs casting larger than life distorted feedback, bantering bass lines buried beneath the sonic swells and the irregular drum rolls that colluded to craft a bizarre atonal callithump through hellish soundscapes. However on ODINIST all that came before is toned down manyfold in order to craft a somewhat more accessible, or at least more orthodox black metal experience. While “MoRT” cast the strangest of sonic spells with a never-ending supply of jagged irregular jazz-fueled percussion, ODINIST takes on the more standard approach of blastbeats and less jagged progressive time signature attacks. This is all relative of course as ODINIST is much more avant-garde than the average black metal album.

Likewise the compositions lie more in the realm of standard black metal than the experimental freeform avant-garde tendencies of the previous two albums. While the newbie to this band may find this one to be more accessible due to the more standardized approach complete with the expected raspy vocals and less frenetic zigzagging effect, ODINIST to my ears sounds like a few steps down in quality and creative expression as the album tends to feel to safe for its own good in comparison to the albums that preceded and the excellent “777” trilogy that followed. While ODINIST hits all the marks that makes BLUT AUS NORD stand out from the pack, the album feels like it’s running on automatic pilot rather than tackling something completely fresh however occasional such as on tracks like “Ellipsis,” the doppler effect style of “MoRT” is more prominent.

In many ways ODINIST feels like a Viking metal style album with scattered melodic nods to Norwegian folk music with even the title referring to the god of Norse mythology. On board with the caustic black metal which had been amped up from the previous works, the dark ambient and industrial elements still teem with life however they are also kept on the leash as the compositional style is more predictable and less prone to crafting intangible elements that leave the listener in a cold bewildering reality devoid of any Earthly connections. ODINIST in its 37 minute run is nothing but a decent and compelling atmospheric black metal album experience however i can never shake the feeling that it just doesn’t rise to the standards that BLUT AUS NORD had set so high just the year before. Not my personal favorite but a must for fans no doubt.

BLUT AUS NORD MoRT

Album · 2006 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
While second wave of black metal was without a doubt the product of Norwegian wrath against humankind and religious practices with plenty of church burnings to add some visuals, the relative adaptive nature of the buzzsaw guitar led bombast and simple song structures allowed various elements to hybridize quite quickly making black metal one of the most versatile subgenera in the entire metal universe. While Darkthrone, Emperor, Immortal and Mayhem may have led Norway’s darkened dramatic take on the 80s metal that evolved into the 90s, it became clear in the 2000s that France was taking the lead having created some of the most unique experimental examples of taking black metal into surreal new realities.

The one man band BLUT AUS NORD also known as Vindsval took the atmospheric black metal approach of Burzum and Naglfar and adopted some of the first traces of psychedelic rock as far back as “Ultime Thulée” in 1995 but once the BLUT AUS NORD project became a fully fueled band beginning with 2003’s “The Work Which Transforms God,” Vindsval and friends took the black metal world by storm by crafting a new level of sophistication that had never been achieved with depressive chugging atonal guitar riffs enshrouded by suffocating atmospheres and crafting a sonicscape that reflected the frequencies of true hellish underworlds.

Three years later this Mondeville outfit took the stylistic approach on the breakthrough album to its logical conclusion with the fifth full-album MoRT which featured Vindsval on guitar and vocals along with bandmates W.D. Feld on drums and keyboards and GhÖst on bass. The album which pretty much was a continuous flow of bleak mind-numbing surreality which featured eight tracks symbolizing a “Chapter” of a greater nebulous concept never quite defined. The overall mood of the album is terrorizing as MoRT allows you to enter a strange new world where nothing is familiar and excels in atonal deformity unlike anything else that has been experienced before or after.

Beginning with terrifying processed vocals and dark ambient swirls, the atonal amorphous guitar riffs swim in a gelatinous vacuum with abstract drum beats, dissonant swells of distortion and thick depressive atmospheres that sound like single musical notes are tortured until they cease to exude a life force. In many ways MoRT exudes the absolute perfect fusion of black metal textural sensibilities with icy dark ambient atmospherics crafting a perfect balance of calculated metrics. Twisted progressive time signatures slink and slither like magically enhanced serpents writhing out of cold fiery pits in the bowels of the deepest recesses of the underworld, a place so devoid of light and human tangibility that one is reduced to a spiritual cryogenic state of the soul.

Perhaps one of the most adventurous black metal experiences one could possibly encounter, it’s fair to say that BLUT AUS NORD changed the black metal world exponentially with “The Work Which Transforms God” and this even more bizarre example of MoRT which would apparently shift the tectonic plates leading many other French black metal bands like Deathspell Omega and S.V.E.S.T. to adopt some of the deranged harsh tactics employed on this sonic display of freakery. Perhaps the least metal of BLUT AUS NORD’s canon, MoRT excels at being utterly outside the boundaries of virtually anything orthodox in any musical genre. The processed unintelligible vocals that erupt occasionally only add an emphatic sense of horror to the incessant parade of soul splitting awe that lasts for 47 minutes of sonic terror.

Needless to say, MoRT is unlike any other musical experience you could imagine existed and is perhaps one of the most terrifying albums that has ever been produced. Taking on aspects of black metal, dark ambient, progressive rock and even freeform no wave accompanied by a series of deep processed otherworldly growls and the occasional liturgical choirs peaking out of the din, MoRT is without a doubt one that will disturb even the most hardened music lover upon first listen and will send any uninitiated passerby to the insane asylum. This music requires learning an entirely new language in many ways to comprehend as it craftily displays some of the most extreme possibilities of a black-metal-in-opposition approach. While BLUT AUS NORD has crafted some excellent albums in its multi-decade career, it’s this one MoRT that i find the most original and utterly fascinating in its unapologetic experimental rampage.

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