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There are multiple ways to sort through the members of a given category, each essentially as arbitrary as the next one. In the case of the planets of the solar system, the default model nowadays arranges them in order of distance from the sun, from nearest to furthest. Despite its logic (going from the center outwards), it is not faultless (if we include Pluto in the schema, Neptune’s orbit makes this outermost of the giants the furthest planet for 20 years each two and a half centuries) or panacea. For instance, this arrangement is of little practical value to the terrestrial observer looking for a model that can practically resonate with her own experience. Alternative ways of sorting could be by apparent brightness, time of emergence on the local horizon, color, occult properties, or any other characteristic that may be of acute and immediate interest.
The order in which the planets appear in Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine (note that the word planet comes from the Greek πλανήτης which means wanderer), Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore’s latest split release, follows the popular contemporary arrangement with two changes: Mars and Venus have switched places, as have Uranus and Neptune. Intrigued, I mused on the reason behind this decision: in the inner planets’ case both songs are Mare Cognitum’s, thus discarding any notions of harmonic band alternation (Spectral/Mare/Spectral, etc) which could be the case for the two outermost giants. Also, this difference does not appear to have anything to do with cabbalistic or tarot correspondences.
The album could well be considered a continuation of the bands’ previous split release, 2013’s Sol, developing and expanding upon the astrological and astronomical themes therein encountered (the only thing missing now is Luna). Following on the tradition of Sol, the album includes songs from each band, as well as a collaborative finale (which in this case is Pluto’s two-track suite spanning more than 23 minutes).
The album’s sheer volume is daunting: almost two hours of music spanning ten songs, eight of which break the ten-minute mark. The duration feels analogous to the scope, as the listener/voyager traverses through the whole solar system (apart from the Sun which as stated has already been visited). This could easily derail into a meaningless seething sonic mass of disconnected themes, akin to the fragments of an asteroid belt. Yet, the two artists manage to seed the 115 minutes with a multitude of styles, making each track into an autonomous unit endowed with its own memorable character.
There is a true sense of transition here, of journeying from the earth-like familiar character (at least in comparison to that of their gaseous counterparts) of the inner planets to the giants of the outer system. Musically, this is achieved by moving from established to unknown territory. For instance, Mercury, the opening track, is the closest we get to typical Spectral Lore material, with themes full of sonorous rage and adventurous majesty – an intellect that exalts in the familiar, that which it has conquered and knows well. Mare Cognitum’s Mars is viscous and shrilling aggressive black metal, lost in the red mist of war yet always remaining grounded. Earth is hearth-warming, melodic, with many root-like micromelodies that verge on optimism and rise to the glorious heights so characteristic of Spectral Lore, while Mare’s Venus is majestic, in times hypnotic, and always devotional.
From then on things become increasingly alien as we move beyond the asteroid belt towards the giants – which happens to be the moniker given to Jupiter. Archaic and full of possibilities, this glacially moving song feels gigantic, presenting vast rolling stratas and ending up being a strong candidate for album highlight. In Saturn a bass-laden mysticism (of almost an eastern hue due to the plucking eeriness) reigns supreme twisted into a strange crawling, dissonant song that is somewhat reminiscent of Emptiness’ Nothing but the Whole.
Despite the wealth of styles and themes, the two bands’ trademarks are clearly present: from the nearly indiscernible howls of Ayloss, his epic outbursts and complex riffing (which nourish some almost folk-sounding melodies) to Mare Cognitum’s icy long-winded structures and inherent love of flowing melody. Each composition is revealed as a complete entity to be explored, with a particular atmosphere, sudden twists and unique spectacles – it feels like the listener/voyager visits a whole planet each time.
There is much to digest in Wanderers – from the heartbreaking beauty of Venus and the seer gigantic-ness of Jupiter’s vistas to the anti-patriarchal mythological themes in Uranus’ lyrics and Pluto’s rightful death metal. This is a cosmic journey through the multitude of the planetary aspects. The two artists remind us that seeing the planets only as celestial bodies is witnessing just a fraction of their infinite being. For the planets are wandering archetypes, malleable entities that have been with the humanity since its more ancient past and have accumulated a profusion of meanings. A torrential, maximalist, many-layered blend of astronomy (watch how Jupiter’s Great Storm appears in the track’s lyrics), astrology and mythology with extreme metal and ambiance, that demands (and richly rewards) absolute attention and immersion.