August 22, 2020

Ars Magna Umbrae - Apotheosis

By Bryan Camphire. The Great Art of Shadows. This is one possible translation of Ars Magna Umbrae. This Latin name may not easily roll off the tongue, but no matter. Listening to this music, it's clear that the artist who created it is not interested in easy pleasures.
By Bryan Camphire.

Artwork by Dhomth

The Great Art of Shadows. This is one possible translation of Ars Magna Umbrae. This Latin name may not easily roll off the tongue, but no matter. Listening to this music, it's clear that the artist who created it is not interested in easy pleasures. The Great Art of Shadows could hardly be a more evocative and mysterious moniker. Apotheosis, the band's third release, is also a fitting title as it is indeed a high point in the development of this compelling and carefully crafted body of work.

Ars Magna Umbrae is a one person black metal entity hailing from Poland. The band's previous release, Lunar Ascension, caught my attention as it was released by the venerable I, Voidhanger Records, an unmatched tastemaker dealing in present-day outer reaches of music. What shocked me about this artist then--and continues to do so now--is the uniqueness of the voice. There is a sophistication in the sense of melody and composition that becomes instantly recognizable and sounds like no other.

The high level of talent on display in the music of Ars Magna Umbrae is unmistakable. I'm of the opinion that heavy metal music is a realm toward which musical savants gravitate who would have, in former times, gravitated toward classical composition. Nowadays, composing classical music is no more likely to pay the bills than metal. Metal music affords unique opportunities for emotional expression. Black metal can be seen as an especially emotive sub-genre, one that venerates individuality and poise. Describing how imperative it was for black metal bands to be unique in the genre's early formative years, Garm, aka Kristoffer Rygg, of Ulver put it thusly,

“I think in those days that was a major criterion; to be a force to be counted on in the scene, you had to create your own thing. This latter-day perception that true black metal only sounds like Darkthrone is just fucking silly, it’s a lot of distortion on the original idea, which included stuff like Mercyful Fate, for crying out loud. The charisma of the music was really paramount."
Going into detail about the singularity of the music on Apotheosis, there are passages to be found within this release that are nothing short of jaw-dropping. One such moment arrives as the second riff on the second song, "She Who Splits The Earth". A woozy 4/4 rhythm is stomped out as the guitars glissando up and down the fretboard with uncanny precision. The off-kilter feel is accomplished by the guitar cramming more notes into the phrase than seem to want to fit, almost as though it's transposing some odd-metered tabla phrase into an otherwise aggressively head-banging riff. I feel like I'd have to hear it slowed down to even begin to make sense of it, yet it's this smearing of my perception that makes the riff so intoxicating.

Other Apotheosis highlights include: The wet gurgling vocals in the lumbering end section of "Mare Tenebrarum" (The Dark Sea), evocative of a pyroclastic flow belching skyward and scorching everything on which it lands. The asymmetrical opening section in "Of Divine Divergence" giving way to a sharp-taloned riff that shreds the listener to ribbons, ending in yet another inter-dimensional guitar glissando. The dueling guitars in the mid section of "Oracle of Luminous Dark"--one of which is played by G.G. of Cosmic Putrefaction--sounding like they're acting out the scene depicted on the cover art for Dawn of Possession.

Apotheosis ends with a number called, "Ignis in Tenebris" (Fire in the Dark). It starts off sounding like the amp was just turned on mid-phrase, as though the song was already unfolding before we arrived to witness it. It builds steadily ablaze with the energy of an all-encompassing darkness. Some time later, as the spell and the album is extinguished, the guitar mimics the dying sounds of smoldering flickering tongues.

Ars Magna Umbrae is a force to be counted on. Apotheosis is their grand gesture. It's a record of sweeping vision and charisma.

1 comment:
  1. This one is dense, and by dense I mean FUCKING DENSE. So many layers packed into such a package. There's definitely some odd meter fuckery going on somewhere in this swirling mass of madness.

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