Album ReviewsReviewsΜηλινόη

Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum - Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine

Gustav Hol­st’s The Plan­ets, Op. 32 is the first piece of music I can remem­ber enjoy­ing. In my mind, our little body is seated in a church at my grand­mother’s funeral, four years old, listen­ing to a walk­man play­ing that suite. It was prob­ably given to me by my par­ents to keep me occu­pied. I’m not sure what I was like at the time to make them do that, but that’s of no import­ance any­way. The Plan­ets.

I con­sider Hol­st’s suite one of the most influ­en­tial com­pos­i­tions in the 20th cen­tury, and I hear its echoes in so much later music, par­tic­u­larly soundtracks. Of course, even if there might be some truth to that, it runs par­al­lel to my own chro­no­lo­gical jour­ney through music. If The Plan­ets is the first work I attent­ively listened to, then of course it will in some way act as influ­en­cer and ori­gin­ator on whatever comes after on my life’s jour­ney.

For his music, Holst was inspired by vari­ous astro­lo­gical and eso­teric con­nota­tions of the plan­ets, rather than astro­nom­ical or clas­sic myth­o­lo­gical asso­ci­ations. I like to assume that the music was mainly inspired by chan­nel­ing the former influ­ences through his own ima­gin­a­tion, per­haps with side impact from the out­break of the first World War dur­ing the com­pos­i­tion of “Mars”, the first of the move­ments Holst com­posed.

Fast for­ward with me more than a cen­tury if you will.

I find in my inbox an email with the above artwork—just look at it! Thank you Eli­jah Tamu—and the announce­ment that Spec­tral Lore and Mare Cog­nitum are (once again*) col­lab­or­at­ing on a celes­tial album, this time called Wan­der­ers: Astro­logy of the Nine. By now you can ima­gine roughly what went through my head. Oh shit, this is a Plan­ets work! Includ­ing Pluto, because after all that’s how people of our gen­er­a­tion were raised. This is how you cre­ate a hype in my head.

*In 2013, the two bands released ‘Sol’, an album ded­ic­ated to the Sun, which also is a hybrid between a split and a col­lab­or­at­ive album.

How then, do I talk about an album like this? Well, as best I can. Wan­der­ers is a massive work: eight solo tracks (four plan­ets to each artist) and a double col­lab­or­at­ive track to give Pluto his proper due, together clock­ing in at two hours. Two hours of black metal. That’s intense, OK?

It’s intim­id­at­ing to say the least to approach this album as a whole entity, both because of its length and its ambi­tion. Hol­st’s suite last for about 50 minutes in most versions—in part because he skips Earth and Pluto—and can there­fore also be approached as a reas­on­able access­ible ‘whole jour­ney’ to be taken in one sit­ting. Wan­der­ers lasts more than twice as long, at a higher level of musical intens­ity, and is as such much more for­bid­ding.

To say that Wan­der­ers is impen­et­rable is off the mark. Its songs are approach­able if you’re into this kind of melodic but occa­sion­ally very intense black metal. Within its realm it is not par­tic­u­larly music­ally unortho­dox or chal­len­ging. But the concept looms so large. It makes me want to grasp it as a whole, con­sume it in two-hour men­tal jour­neys or else not at all.

I’ve tried it twice, and it works. Dur­ing the second sit­ting last night I fell asleep halfway through, but that says more about my easy drift­ing than about the qual­ity of the music or its abil­ity to cap­tiv­ate. Because the artists take turns in present­ing an inter­pret­a­tion of a par­tic­u­lar planet, the dif­fer­ences between their respect­ive per­sonal sounds already cre­ate a dynamic. This is only made stronger by the dif­fer­ences between the indi­vidual com­pos­i­tions: like in Hol­st’s suite, each planet most def­in­itely has its own per­son­al­ity.

This final point also helps me in accept­ing that I don’t have to listen to works like these as a whole. That’s true for Holst, too! It is not only per­fectly accept­able to listen to one planet at a time—why would­n’t it be, except accord­ing to my own strange men­tal standards?—sometimes it’s a more focused med­it­a­tion than try­ing to engage with all of them in a fixed jour­ney.

Now is not the time to relate what each planet does to me. I haven’t sat down with each of them long enough, or in isol­a­tion. Heck, that even goes for Hol­st’s work after thirty years. But I can give a few impres­sions.

I was cry­ing in bed yes­ter­day, for reas­ons we shan’t go into here. “Earth: the Mother” was­n’t the one who made me cry, nor did the hyper-aggress­ive Mars or wise Mer­cury, who came before. But she com­for­ted me as I cried, as a real mother should. She is beau­ti­ful, famil­iar, a Mother of Infin­ite Sor­rows who weeps for her every child.

Hol­st’s Nep­tune is an ambi­ent creature of deep mys­tery, and pos­sibly my favour­ite move­ment from his suite (see the very end of this piece for a bonus). Mare Cog­nitum’s Nep­tune, too, is “The Mys­tic”, but here expressed in a rolling, waltz­ing piece. The vari­ous lead gui­tar melod­ies spread through­out man­age to bring this forth beau­ti­fully.

Pluto, as said, is hon­oured with a 23-minute double fea­ture. The artists first col­lab­or­ate on a long cos­mic ambi­ent piece to set the stage, and then launch into a majestic piece of icy cyber-black. “The Gate­keeper” is the per­fect end­ing for this whole album. Pluto did make me cry. It is over­whelm­ingly fated. It speaks of thresholds and abysses, of that place in space-time where you are about to cast off old chains and embark on some­thing com­pletely unknown.

Because yes, unlike Hol­st’s work, this one has lyr­ics, though of course given the genre, you’d be hard-pressed to make them out. But Mare Cog­nitum and Spec­tral Lore have things to say. It’s not just myth­o­lo­gical or mys­tical mus­ings. It is that, but it’s about cli­mate change, man­kind’s pos­sible future among the stars. About des­troy­ing pat­ri­archy and oppres­sion, about the pos­sib­il­it­ies of reli­gion, about love on a global and per­sonal scale.

When I star­ted com­pos­ing this review in our head last night, I was­n’t sure how ‘pos­it­ive’ I was going to (be able) to be about Wan­der­ers. Like I said above, it seemed to be too big to grasp as a whole and say “this is a good album”. But it is. Writ­ing my way through it, enga­ging with it act­ively, it really is. The ambi­tion is great, but Ayl­oss and Jacob Buczarski (let’s call them by their names) pull it off.

Impen­et­rable” is not the right word. No space is impen­et­rable. But it’s not easy to ven­ture out into this one and exper­i­ence what it has to offer. There’s work involved, energy to be expen­ded, and not every trip will yield the same things. Do it any­way, because this is one of this year’s most import­ant albums. To me, of course, but then again I have a long his­tory with The Wanderers—because that’s what planet means in the first place. Wan­der­ers across our heav­ens, bod­ies that seem­ingly defy the fix­ed­ness of the stars, per­son­al­it­ies. But maybe the Wan­der­ers will be import­ant to you too.

Wan­der­ers: Astro­logy of the Nine’ is out on 13 March on 2CD and digital through I, Void­hanger, and on triple LP through that same label in col­lab­or­a­tion with Entropic Record­ings.

Reviewed by Μηλινόη

Sev­eral years ago I ded­ic­ated a show to vari­ous kinds of dark ambi­ent ‘space music’ and the concept of being lost in space. The entire lat­ter part of it was an exper­i­ment in ambi­ent lay­er­ing con­sist­ing of vari­ous inter­pret­a­tions of Hol­st’s “Nep­tune”, end­ing with my favour­ite ver­sion of it in its entirety. It’s the 1970 per­form­ance with Bern­ard Haitink con­duct­ing the Lon­don Phil­har­monic and the John Alldis Choir, released by Philips. Not sur­pris­ingly, that one’s the ‘ori­ginal’ ver­sion: the one I heard as a child. You can listen to the ‘Mass of Nep­tunes’ from around the 45 minute mark, or just binge the whole thing if you’re so inclined.