Once upon a time, an EP was usually seven inches and contained two tracks, four at most. This all changed with the recent introduction of so-called “Compact Disk” technology, which utilizes digital means to fit far more music onto smaller physical media. All of this is obviously a product of degeneration, and possibly black magic, so bringing it up is a fitting prelude to a review of one such “CD-EP” – Poland’s Ars Magna Umbrae’s Through Lunar Gateways.
The title is truly classic black metal, and it would be reasonable to expect Norwegian 90’s rehash. While that would have been completely unproblematic – originality being the last refuge of the scoundrel – Ars Magna Umbrae’s sole member does offer something rather different. Solidly in the black metal camp, with screeching guitars, shifting pacing and violently screaming vocals, Through Lunar Gateways focuses more on play with harmonies and building strange soundscapes than reusing the riffs of yore. The term avant-garde black metal isn’t used a whole lot these days, but in this case it is quite fitting. Switching smoothly between minor-scale, depressive BM riffs of a more common variety and bizarre, disharmonious assaults, Ars Magna Umbrae efficiently contrast rather cookie-cutter atmospheric segments with parts marked by an extremely alien atmosphere.
The one album I would compare this to is Austrian Korova’s A Kiss in the Charnel Fields – a supremely underestimated piece of metal that people generally just missed out on. Through Lunar Gateways is not as freakishly strange, but tonally there are numerous similarities. There’s also great variety to be found here, even while the EP never strays from the formula outlined above. The presumably nuclear weapon inspired track “Of Thousand Suns” is an instant classic, as it manages to combine the surreal miasma permeating the album with a sort of 1st gen, thrashy feel. It must be heard to be understood.
With Through Lunar Gateways, Ars Magna Umbrae has entered whatever remains of the black metal scene with a loud, if obscure and occult, bang. The EP combines tradition and a bizarre type of creativity and, in the end, becomes something very memorable. The CD version will be available from Hellthrasher in short order, while a vinyl version – 12 inches – will be put out by Flesh Vessel. A digital download version is available from the band.