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An Interview With Mare Cognitum

No discussion of contemporary one-man black metal is complete without a mention of Jacob Buczarski and Mare Cognitum. Along  with bands like Spectral Lore, Midnight Odyssey, and Ecferus–all of whom, not coincidentally, are currently part of the I, Voidhanger Records roster–he’s been at the vanguard of forward-thinking black metal. Over a five year span, he’s released four full-lengths and a pair of splits, each of which has in some way refined a sound that was already pretty well formed when he released his debut album The Sea Which Has Become Known in 2011. After being out of print for a couple of years, The Sea is being reissued on January 19 by  I, Voidhanger  (CD) and Fallen Empire (LP), which seemed like the perfect opportunity to talk to Buczarski about his debut album, the history of the project, his recent mastering work for other bands, and his future plans.

Indy Metal Vault: So after being out of print for several years—and, as far as I can tell, never being issued physically in any format aside from cassette—your debut 2011 full-length The Sea Which Has Become Known is being reissued on CD/LP by I, Voidhanger /Fallen Empire on January 19. Six(ish) years seems like kind of a random interval to be reissuing it, though – what made this seem like the right time to do it? How long has the plan for it actually been in the works? Milam Records, the label that originally released it on cassette, closed shop not too long after it came out – were there any rights issues to work out before you could move it over to another label or anything?

Mare Cognitum: Well, of course I’ve wanted to put it out on CD and vinyl since I made it! But the plans to re-release it started with some conversations with my labels back in early 2017. No, there were never any issues with rights – we just recognized that it would be a great time to re-introduce this album to encourage newer Mare Cognitum listeners to check out the older material they might not have heard, and to also give the die-hards a chance to own a physical copy, which has been asked for quite a bit. Overall, I think the album sheds light on the formative years of Mare Cognitum and provides insight into the development of what Mare Cognitum sounds like today, and I think there are now enough people who would appreciate this revisiting to warrant a proper release.

IMV: According to the promo notes, the reissue presents the album in its “unadulterated form.” Were you at all tempted to go back and remaster or tinker with it at all? Being that it was your first album, and given how much your sound had evolved by the time An Extraconscious Lucidity came out less than a year later, I imagine it had to have felt at least a little strange revisiting it for the reissue. I’ve listened to your discography straight through a couple of times while prepping for this interview, and The Sea Which Has Become Known is an excellent record, but it is a bit of an outlier in that it might be the most straightforwardly black metal record you’ve done.

MC: I absolutely was tempted to mess with it, but was thankfully prevented from doing so. At one point I considered re-recording the whole album and was talked down from that by some very wise advice from others, and that’s good because honestly I don’t know what I was thinking. I can’t think of a worse waste of time!

I attempted to get back into the old project files to just do some leveling tweaks, but there were technical issues due to the project being so old, and I gave up on that. So I could at least attempt some remastering… but as I played with it, it occurred to me that it didn’t really need to be messed with at all, and I scrapped it. I decided to release it in its original form.

There are many more valid reasons why I made edits to An Extraconscious Lucidity and the to-be-re-released Sol (which will be remastered completely), namely, that I was trying to make those records sound a certain way, and failed in their initial inception, but learned how to make them sound the way I wanted later on. In other words, I wasn’t trying to make The Sea Which Has Become Known sound any particular way, and that gave it a really pure character that I decided not to disturb.

It is definitely really strange to listen to this record. Sometimes it absolutely does not feel like I was the one who made it. It’s a strange, dissociative feeling that is difficult to explain. So many things are different than when I made this, I guess I’m not that same person anymore. And I guess that shows in the music too.

IMV: The one thing you did change for the reissue, though, is the cover art. The new version is by Moonroot Art, who also did the cover to Luminiferous Aether, and it’s really quite stunning. How closely did you work with him on the concept for the art?

MC: Very closely! Moonroot put up with a lot of my requests to change minute details, all the way from the sketching phase to the final presentation, down to changes to stars in the background and ridiculous things like that. I’m sort of chaotic in what I ask for and then picky about results, so I’m sure he was cursing me a bit… haha! On top of sorting through my indecision, he created several crucial details and ideas himself which elevated the cover in a special way. His vision of this alien landscape compliments the sci-fi atmosphere of this album in a way far greater than I could have imagined.

IMV: So if you don’t mind switching over to some broader topics now…I always do a bit of research before sitting down to write one of these things so I can avoid the obvious questions or repeating anything you’ve already been asked a bunch of times (like your musical inspirations, why the space stuff, whether you’ll ever put together a lineup to play live). One thing I’ve not seen come up in any of the interviews I’ve looked at is your musical background. What was your first instrument? Do you have any formal musical or compositional training? There are some passages on The Sea Which Has Become Known, particularly the interplay between the piano and that tremolo-picked guitar line in the intro section of “Internal Deliquescence,” that make me wonder if you have some kind of classical background.

MC: Haha, well I used to play the trumpet when I was 10… does that count? I can’t play it today, and I can’t remember how to read music anymore. I don’t have any training or know any music theory, I am self taught and have been primarily playing electric guitar for something like 11 years. I play everything by ear. I started playing guitar in high school because I thought metal was cool. Any other instruments, piano or otherwise, I struggle a great deal to put together and perform, so that’s why you don’t hear it so much. I’m really just muddling through it. Sorry this isn’t more interesting!

IMV: Considering your discography as a whole, you seem like the kind of artist who’s constantly evolving, never making quite the same album twice. Still, as I mentioned a few questions ago, it seems like the leap from The Sea Which Has Become Known to An Extraconscious Lucidity was particularly pronounced. I know it’s been a few years, but do you remember anything different in terms of your approach when you were writing those two records?

MC: I got some unexpected attention from The Sea Which Has Become Known which for some reason made me think I needed to make a more “professional” type of record now. This affected the songwriting positively and the production quality negatively – I squashed the life out of AEL and spent so much time mixing and mixing and mixing and never quite getting it to sound “right.” This is why I eventually went back and remixed it. This was a great learning experience, but I have to admit that the result was originally pretty poor.

As for the music, I think I realized what worked so well on The Sea and wanted to expand on those things. In The Sea, there is some very clear emulation at play, a sort of homage to my influences at work in each song, which results in a pretty varied and unfocused set of tracks stylistically, even if the songs are cool on their own. I was still discovering what the style I really wanted to play was. I recognized the need to pare it down and focus on the most successful elements and develop the formula for “my sound.” It made the tracks feel a bit more glued, and the album structure grew a bit more coherent.

I think what is completely unique about the first album is the totally raw, clueless ambition. I had no reasons in mind to record it other than I wanted to, and I was playing exactly what I thought sounded good without thoughts of whether or not anyone would like or care about it. It’s a completely pure artistic endeavor, uninhibited by the worries of whether or not others would approve.

IMV: Along the same lines as that last question, how has your approach to making music in general changed since you started doing Mare Cognitum? I’m guessing you’ve upgraded equipment at some point, but aside from that has your writing and recording process essentially stayed the same? What is your recording setup like these days? I’m particularly curious about how you do the drums.

MC: It’s still pretty much the same setup as always, actually. The software has changed slightly (I record in Reaper now – I used to record in Cubase) and I use way more cool VST plugins now, but not much else has changed. I only got my second new guitar last year, I recorded everything up until now with the same one. I use a pretty simple DI guitar recording interface, a decent set of monitors and a couple good sets of studio headphones, and that’s pretty much it. I also use a drum machine… sorry if that’s a little disappointing! All the magic has happened in true bedroom black metal fashion up until now, and as of recently my home studio is now in a basement, which is even more authentically black metal / depressing! In all seriousness, I’ve always been about doing great things while keeping it simple.

I’ve always composed and arranged tracks “live” – that is, I am writing stuff by recording it into a project that ends up being the final track over time. Sometimes, the riff you hear on the record is the first time I’ve played it correctly.

IMV: You’ve been fairly prolific over the course of doing Mare Cognitum, with four full-lengths and a pair of splits over the course of five years. Mare Cognitum was uncharacteristically quiet in 2017, though I noticed that you did start doing some studio work, including mastering Entheogen’s Without Veil, Nor Self. How did you get into doing that kind of work for other bands? And for readers who may be unfamiliar with the process, can you briefly explain what mastering actually entails?

MC: It started with just asking musician friends I knew if they wanted me to work on their stuff, but now it’s primarily through connections with Fallen Empire Records. It’s usually stuff they plan on releasing or are considering releasing and ask if I can improve. Other than that, it’s just word-of-mouth, friends of people I originally offered to do studio work for, that kind of thing. I plan on pushing this service a little more in the future, as I really enjoy working on other people’s projects, and hear tons of records that make me think, “damn, I wish I could have polished this up a bit…”

Shameless plug: I will make your bedroom recording sound great, send me your shit to mix and master please and thanks. Ok, shameless plug over.

For those that don’t know, mastering is the final stage of the production process, after mixing (which is the leveling and processing of instrument tracks both individually and in relation to one another). Mastering involves taking the track as a whole and without changing any individual tracks (since you are typically working with a single mixed file) and preparing the final eq, level, dynamics, etc for it to be ready for release. I typically get sent things to master, but I can mix projects as well. I just don’t currently have a proper studio for tracking.

IMV: I’ve seen you talk elsewhere about your love of space sci-fi movies, and I’ve also seen that you’re something of a craft beer guy, so let me ask you this: if someone wanted to follow up listening to The Sea Which Has Become Known with a beer and a movie, what would you recommend as the ideal accompaniments to the album and why

MC: Honestly, you should just grab a 40 of Olde English and watch Alien. That’d get you pretty close to the headspace of 21-year-old me.

IMV: So what’s next for Mare Cognitum? Have you started writing the follow-up to Luminiferous Aether? If so, do you think it will continue in the more “violent, nihilistic and intense” direction of that album?

I haven’t started a new full length yet. I’m taking some time to do some actual guitar practice, polish up some technique and work on my chops. For a while, I lost interest in this in flavor of production and arrangement, but now I’m getting back into the art of being a guitarist. How this will translate onto the next record, I’m not sure yet.

I do have something in the works to tide everyone over until the next full length, however. This will be announced in detail soon.

IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I’ll leave the last word to you – anything else you want to add?

MC: “If a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live.” – Tommy Wiseau

 

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