For those that only have a passing familiarity with the abrasive genre of black metal, the first images that pop up are the anti-religious overtones of early ‘90s Norwegian bands featured in the 2009 documentary Until The Light Takes Us, or the many photos of forlorn musicians stranded in the woods. While the genre has seen a broadening of the horizons thanks to recent genre-bending acts such as Deafheaven, the majority of Southern California musicians plying their trade in that realm stick to the tried-and-true.
Since 2011, Lake Forest musician Jacob Buczarski has been a one-man black metal tour de force, releasing music under the name Mare Cognitum. But instead of searching for metallic inspiration in the hell below or the earth around us, Buczarski looks to the stars above. His newest record under the Mare Cognitum name, Luminiferous Aether, balances ambient beauty and pummeling brutality in its quest to musically communicate the gaps between darkness and light in outer space.
After toiling in various bands that kept getting derailed by stop-start momentum breaks and deciding to pursue musical paths on his own, Buczarski initially attempted to take a more traditional route.
“I was trying to go for the uber-kvlt evil black metal sound,” Buczarski says during our conversation. “But it felt super forced. I wanted to focus on something that actually means something to me. I had been into astronomy since I was a kid. Space is a really heavy thing. What’s out there in space is a bit more mysterious than the woods or wastelands of this planet.”
While Buczarski is not the first musician to pursue the path of “cosmic” black metal, the progression of his sound since his 2011 debut The Sea Which Has Become Known is as awe-inspiring as the vast cosmos he writes about. His vocals are very much in the shrieking black metal vein, with sweeping riffs and blistering drumming arrangements firmly rooted in the genre’s brutality. That brutality however is tempered by moments of melodic guitar and atmospheric ambiance that shroud the musical chaos in an air of spatial beauty, evoking the calm before the storm in every sci-fi movie when the mission is about to become doomed.
The ethereal nature of outer space propels Buczarski to compose with that balance in mind.
“There’s this random struggle [in outer space] between beauty and complete mayhem,” Buczarski says. “Space can be terrifying. Some day we are going to get consumed by the sun, or get hit by a meteor. But at the same time, there’s a sense of beauty about realizing that we’re a speck of dust in a vast universe.”
Buczarski is the lone voice behind Mare Cognitum. He is the sole songwriter and musician, handling composing, lyrics, vocals, guitars, drum programming, mixing, and mastering. Even as his profile grows and his production evolves with every album, Buczarski is content to keep Mare Cognitum a one-man bedroom studio project.
“I have the freedom to experiment,” Buczarski says. “I don’t have to round up band members and spend time teaching them parts of songs. I have an interesting idea in my head and I can just go for it. That’s been a really nice thing, being able to make decisions as soon as possible and move at my pace.”
While other one-man black metal projects like Panopticon have recently taken steps into assembling bands and performing live, Buczarski is in no rush to undertake a live presentation at this stage of his music career.
“I enjoyed playing live when I was in bands, but I like making records more,” says Buczarski. “I wouldn’t want to sacrifice writing a record to take the time to perform live. I’m not even that connected with local musicians really, so even finding people to work with would be a pretty difficult thing.”
In the meantime, Mare Cognitum remains a single-pilot black metal vessel floating through the universe.