Ancient Shadows of Saturn by LumnosRelease date: February 8, 2018
Brazil’s Lumnos manages to do something that is increasingly rare: make a fascinating and unique black metal album. The good folks over at Alpkvlt Metal Magazin recently published an as-yet-untranslated essay arguing that black metal needs to adapt or die – and it’s hard to disagree with that assessment – in order to preserve the truly revolutionary aspects of the music: its transgressions, its ontological terrorism, its displacement of the ego of the listener… In short, the way it manages to critique society in a way that would both confuse and enchant critical theorists such as Adorno. There are, of course, bands that buck this trend, and Lumnos, with their new album Ancient Shadows of Saturn, joins them.
It’s important to emphasize at this point what I mean by ‘preserving’ aspects of black metal; this is not a call for some sort of ‘trve kvlt’ performative folderol. The aspects I highlighted have far more to do with the ‘feel’ of the music, the precise interaction between the listener and the sounds. Adorno, in a 1965 essay, described this ‘feel’ in terms of knistern – or crackling.
For Lumnos, this is instantiated with an obsession with, to put it in a sort of context, a blaze in the northern sky. Or rather the southern sky, as that is where Saturn is seen. This is a music that cannot be pinned down to the day/night dichotomy, however, because it is so clearly obsessed with those interstitial spaces, the twilight, the gaps between the planets. There’s a reason that the title emphasizes the shadows of Saturn, not Saturn itself.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that this music is drawn out, roomy, and spacious. It’s certainly not the type of black metal you put on when you’re in a blastbeat sort of mood. But it is an elevating, elegiac performance, replete with some synths that wouldn’t appear out of place on a Summoning album. But this isn’t quite epic metal. The form a harmonic counterpoint to some truly beautiful guitar-work, recalling Pink Floyd or Dylan Carlson. But this isn’t quite prog metal. Hell, there are even some clean vocals (which, in all honesty, I do wish were minimized, as I feel like they do detract from the overall post-humanist theme). This is a weird album to be sure, but it’s worth your time.
Lumnos is not the first space black metal band, and they won’t be the last. There are clear influences of the sadly-defunct space drone project Saturn Form Essence. And that’s not even to speak of the larger trend of space-themed music. But there’s something to be said for considering the space between the spaces, the ground beneath the ground. This is music that crackles like the famously lo-fi communication between the Moon and Earth. And that, to me, is a fascinating feeling to explore. As Sun Ra said, “space is the place.”