Ars Magna Umbrae’s Cosmically Immersive Black Metal Sits on a “Throne Between Worlds” (Review + Interview)
Ars Magna Umbrae occupies a unique space in black metal's current landscape. On one hand, their use of strange harmonies and twisted rhythms provide intensity on par with progressive extreme metal's vanguard. Yet at the same time, the music puts forth an atmospheric, trance-inducing euphoria. I’d chalk this balancing act up to the fact that the sole artist behind this project endlessly sharpens his craft, having published four releases under this moniker in the last five years while also publishing three releases with a side project called Cultum Interitum. With the release of Throne Between Worlds, Ars Magna Umbrae splits the difference between boundary-pushing fractured melodies and otherworldly ambiance. The record gives us plenty of aggressive dissonance while seamlessly incorporating ample amounts of wide open space in which to get swallowed up. Within this space, Ars Magna Umbrae explores brilliant and dreamlike worlds.
Throne Between Worlds bears signature trademarks that are instantly recognizable to those familiar with Ars Magna Umbrae’s work. From the attention to tone to the distinctive command of melody, the tools deployed by Ars Magna Umbrae on a given album are unmistakably the artist's own. The unorthodoxy in the approach to the guitars is especially striking as it supplies listeners with an idiosyncratic treatment of harmony. Where other guitarists excel in either dissonance or melody, Ars Magna Umbrae is all at once able to paint vivid portraits of both the calm and the storm in the same composition. It's through this expansive color palette that the listener is drawn into an uncanny mode of world-building. Throne Between Worlds glistens with eerie luminescence even in its darkest depths.
The playing on the record ferries the listener through different dimensions like Phlegyas navigating the river Styx. On the opening cut, "Into Waters of the Underworld", glissandi glide us across an expanse of electrified rhythms and sinister arpeggios. Just short of three minutes into the record, the guitars are swallowed up by a haunted choir. The tone is hushed. Beautiful clean guitar scurries in like a spider inspecting its freshly ensnared prey. Suddenly the feast is at hand, and the climax only lasts a brief minute before the arachnid retreats to the darkened chasms from which it came. In under five minutes, a resplendent dream has been bound up, pierced and devoured whole. The strange and craggy peaks and valleys of this realm, the resplendent detail in which it is all presented, lure listeners in with hopes that more of the mystery will be revealed.
Heady themes abound on Throne Between Worlds. From the album cover to the song titles to the lyrical content, it’s clear that Ars Magna Umbrae is grappling with the metaphysical. The fourth cut, "Treader on the Dreamless Path", is another album highlight. In it, the lyrics speak of a veneration of darkness:
In the scatter of your stars I wander
O mighty darkness seeping from the heart of all light
Dissolve now the lingering doubt most foul
So I may stand firm on the crossroads of my soul
Listening to this song gives the impression of observing a rare cosmic event. At the onset, gauzy keys lull the listener into a somnambulistic trance. Lacerating guitars shatter the glassy calm with dissonance and menace. A ride cymbal creeps up around a minute and a half in, seemingly out of time, only to unlock new perceptions of time in the song's knotted rhythmic phrasings. Before one's footing is assured along these ever forking pathways, a break occurs again just before the two minute marker and an off kilter lick in five four subsumes the listener, further cracking the lenses of perception. Polyrhythms are piled on, cycling through resolution and irresolution. Finally, the veils are lifted and a firm stance is found amidst the dark: a vision of a stellar explosion captured in time-lapse. The tension and release at play in this track displays a masterful balancing of cosmically euphoric elements with jarring intensity.
The album closer "Metempsychosis (Transmigration of the Soul)" is Ars Magnum Umbrae's magnum opus. At 11:11 in length, it is nearly twice as long as any other track the artist has produced to date, especially notable in an oeuvre that otherwise favors a conciseness of ideas. Because the artist’s refinement values a less-is-more approach, parts never overstay their welcome on this record and, despite its length, this song is no exception. "Metempsychosis (Transmigration of the Soul)" takes bigger risks in the name of ambiance building, such as folk sounding shakers used in the percussion around four minutes in, or the cacophonous industrial sounding breakdown around the eight minute mark. These risks reward the listener with a song full of bombast that also carries a vast array of colorful constellations of detail.
The breadth of ideas displayed on Throne Between Worlds won’t come as a surprise for those familiar with the back catalog of Ars Magna Umbrae. Up to this point, the artist has been firming up his craft to project it onto larger and larger canvases. What’s impressive about Throne Between Worlds is that it manages to contain so many complex and carefully crafted ideas together in such a condensed space of under forty minutes. Hidden in the haunting melodies and gnarled rhythms, shards of light are refracted into the swirling darkness. It's a dizzying listen, but leaves a lasting impression.
Below, find an interview with the artist behind Ars Magna Umbrae, K.M.
What can you tell us about the title of Throne Between Worlds and why you chose it for this cycle of songs?
K.M.: Throne Between Worlds is a means to emphasize the liminal character of my creative process and also everything outside it. To follow that, this release is very much a crossing point or a crossroads of sorts, both in my private life and in my creative endeavours. A choice has to be made, something has to end for something new to begin, the inherent, ongoing process we witness in every sphere of life - it’s all encased in this offering.
You've released a staggering amount of releases in the last five years. Given that your music conveys such a rich attention to detail, what can you tell us about your creative process and how you manage to be so prolific?
This is a question that comes up quite often but I don’t think I’m overly prolific myself. I dare to say, that I wish I had more time and energy to bring forth even more offerings, not only under the Ars Magna Umbrae moniker. Considering that, I think it’s indeed fair to say that I’ve released a sizeable amount of music in the last five years. To answer your question, there’s no secret or a trick to my creative process. I don’t have any template or a specific order of things that I follow every time when writing. The creative process starts when an idea presents itself and wants to be brought forward. All I do is follow, to see where it leads me. It all boils down to feeling passionate about the art, believing in the innate meaning behind the music and obviously finding the time to write. It’s all about priorities.
Can you explain a bit about how you have striven to sharpen the aesthetic output from release to release with Ars Magna Umbrae?
I strongly believe that there’s absolutely no point in recording the same album twice. When the writing process starts, I’m trying to push myself both when it comes to creativity and how the music actually sounds. I’m a bad case of a perfectionist and that can get in a way sometimes, as I’m not easily satisfied creatively. Sizeable amounts of material often end up erased so that something more worthy can take their place. This is my way of holding myself up to my own artistic standards.
Are there any formative experiences from your youth that led you to pursue making music?
Not many people know that, but I’m actually a classically trained musician that spent a good portion of his youth focusing on cello and piano. That must have had some effect on my need to pursue music. Besides that, any hardships always leave a mark on a person, in one way or another — life itself is one of the best inspirations for anything creative and I’ll leave it at that.
Tell us about your union with the mighty I, Voidhanger and how it's felt to be reaching a wider audience through your partnership with this label.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that signing with I, Voidhanger is one of the best things that happened to the project. I’m continuously impressed with the quality of his releases, both musically and presentation wise. I have immense respect for his hard work over the years and I’m proud to be a part of what I personally consider to be one of the one of the top labels in the genre. Luciano is a devoted fan and supporter of the project and the ability to reach a much wider audience that he provides motivates me greatly to keep pushing myself artistically.
Your album art is always impressive and consistently suits your music perfectly. Tell us about your collaborations with visual artists you've worked with, especially in relation to this new record.
When it comes to the visual representations of my work it’s often a case of a love at first sight, as it was with Dhomth that kindly adorned my last two albums with her otherworldly art. With the first full length release as well as the first EP, it was a similar process. I stumbled upon the work of those two amazing artists and I straight up knew that I simply have to get them involved in both releases, the rest is history.
I was listening to Voivod's Killing Technology (1987) recently and I remembered how, in interviews I'd read, this band is cited as an influence by one of my favorite contemporary acts, Khthoniik Cerviiks. I consider the latter band's music to be really original and vital in today's landscape. Still, I could really hear a direct line linking the music of Voivod to last year's full length by Khthoniik Cerviiks, evidenced by the prominent use of tritones, vocoders and odd propulsive rhythms on both records. I personally place the music of Ars Magna Umbrae on the cutting edge of contemporary extreme metal. I am wondering if you yourself might trace any lines from music of your predecessors on through to this most recent record of yours, or do you view this as a more winding pathway?
Thank you for the kind words about the project, I really am humbled. The essence of the great artists that came before me is always there in one way or another. It would be disrespectful and vain to disregard the accomplishments of those predecessors you mentioned. While I strive to carve out my own path in the musical landscape I always have the greats in mind, as a means of respect they deserve.
Are there artists and bands active today with whom you feel a kinship?
I don’t know about kinship but there’s a handful of diverse black metal projects that I’m continuously impressed and inspired by. Considering that, I like to think that they’re more of a subconscious inspiration, as I tend to musically drift away from their specific styles. I have immense respect for the otherworldly, one of a kind offerings of Blut Aus Nord & Deathspell Omega. Some more projects that I keep coming back to are: Dødheimsgard, Mare Cognitum, Imperial Triumphant, Dodecahedron, Esoctrilihum, Oranssi Pazuzu, Aosoth & Wormlust.
What are some of your sources of inspiration outside of the realm of music?
It’s relatively easy for me to get inspired by pretty much anything although I have to say that it’s a bit of a blessing and a curse. I listen to a ton of music that’s outside the metal genre as I believe that the essence can be found in any medium. Besides music, I found a lot of inspiration in books, poetry and paintings as well as other creative endeavours of like-minded people. Nature and life itself play a role too, in a broad sense. Of course, considering how spiritual my works tend to be, the metaphysical aspects are always the main and most important source of inspiration for anything that I do.
What's next on your horizons?
Definitely more releases and maybe more projects as I have a lot of diverse creative ideas I’d love to fulfill. I always strive to hone my craft and I keep searching for my own, unique creative voice as it develops me as a human being and brings me immense satisfaction. Thank you for the opportunity for the talk, it was a pleasure!
Throne Between Worlds released November 12th via I, Voidhanger Records.