The origin of Mastery, the one man black metal project of Ephemeral Domignostika, is traced back in 2005. Through the years, Mastery have released five demos, a compilation of which is found in Barbaric Usurpation of the Hypereonic Black Metal Throne, and a couple of splits with Palace of Worms and Skullflower. So it has taken the act quite a while to release their first full-length, VALIS. The question is: was it worth the wait? Definitely!
The album itself is one of the most difficult and challenging listens that you have come across in a while, with the sheer extremity of Mastery becoming overwhelming from the first seconds of the album. What the one man act is doing is that they are throwing a free rock element within the black metal core of the band, applying improvisation to a new level and creating dense structures for their songs. The way in which the different layers interact in a song such as “L.O.R.E.S.E.E.K.E.R.” is stunningly brutal. The concentrated aggression of the band becomes too much to handle and reaches a maximum state when the final track of the album, “S.T.A.R.S.E.E.K.E.R.” is brought in. And the fact that the tempo here is also fucking fast does not help to make the journey through VALIS more pleasant, but I guess that is the point.
Even the patterns that Mastery follows are tremendously perplexing, making it quite pointless to try and follow their rhythm. Just when you think you got it, it will sneak up on you and change in an instant. The opening song, “V.A.L.I.S.V.E.S.S.E.L.” is such an example, and especially considering that the song spans for over seventeen minutes, it is quite something that each of its parts is so engaging. The crazed patterns of “L.O.R.E.S.E.E.K.E.R.” and the complete chaos of “S.T.A.R.S.E.E.K.E.R.” further showcase the frenzied free form that Mastery is adopting and exploiting so well. But what is also quite interesting here is that the act is not just capable of creating complex rhythmic patterns and chaotic outbreaks. When more straightforward parts are needed, then Mastery can definitely deliver. Most of the songs feature moments of more dialed down patterns that will bring in mind some of the great black metal bands of the US scene.
That aspect of the band is also present in some of the riffs of Mastery. Because Mastery actually come up with some quite when that is necessary. Parts of the opening song follow that idea, as does “S.T.A.R.S.E.E.K.E.R.” about halfway through in the song. And it is quite something when you suddenly hear some old school black metal riffs coming out of the chaotic structures of the band, something that happens in a few instances in the opening song. Especially in parts of “L.O.R.E.S.E.E.K.E.R.” and “S.T.A.R.S.E.E.K.E.R.” there is a slight more conventional approach with some of the patterns appearing more straightforward and easier to follow. Do not worry though they do not last for long and it is Mastery’s intense dissonance and unique guitar playing that comes in to completely annihilate them.
What ties in perfectly with the intense playing and dense music of Mastery is the incorporation of discordance within the tracks, making them even more daunting and unapproachable. Straight in from the start of “V.A.L.I.S.V.E.S.S.E.L.” the dissonance takes over and over the duration of the song it keeps pushing the boundaries of sanity. The acrimonious leads of “L.O.R.E.S.E.E.K.E.R.” are brain melting, especially in the beginning of the song, and in “S.T.A.R.S.E.E.K.E.R.” they are flat out brutal. But it is also the guitar playing that sounds so unique, especially within the confinements of black metal, and particularly in “V.A.L.I.S.E.V.E.S.S.E.L.” it just keeps appearing and laying waste repeatedly.
The presence of more ambient moments comes as a bit of a surprise, especially in the case of the opening song, but it is quite understandable why it is necessary within VALIS, giving you a short break to catch your breath but not long enough to snap you out of the intensity of the album. In the case of “A.S.H.V.E.S.S.E.L.” and “I.L.K.S.E.E.K.E.R.” the approach portrays a different personification of Mastery, but quite an interesting one, especially in the case of “I.L.K.S.E.E.K.E.R.” with the drones shifting for the short duration of the track. Even though the parts might appear a bit out of the feeling of the album, I do not know if you could get through the whole album in one go without them to keep you on the sane side.
Ephemeral Domignostika was able to come along with his first full-length and produce something monstrous. The scope of VALIS is ambitious and tremendous, and through its forty minutes it is going to be one of the most extreme offerings that you have listened to in a while. Definitely check it out.
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