There aren’t many ghastly dwellers within the black metal realm whom can bring themselves to deny the fact that Greece has long been a reliable mecca for quality, yet consistently underrated, epic black metal, ranging from the most well-known of the bunch in Rotting Christ to the depths of the Pagan underground with Macabre Omen and Nocternity. Even these lesser known projects give way to plenty of others, however, whom have long gone without the respect that their exceptional music demands while authentically bringing the Greek ancestral lineage of intelligence into the present. Amongst these figures whom have been eclipsed by even the moderate popularity of their fellow countrymen is Spectral Lore — a one-man effort from “Ayloss,” a man whom has long held my interest and respect since the initial experience with the self-release of “II” in 2008, which would shortly be followed up with a re-release of the original “I” on Temple of Torturous. It is, at least in my mind, shocking that Spectral Lore still hasn’t found a near-central position in discussions concerning quality black metal from the current generation, but for those whom do enough digging to come across this project, they will undoubtedly discover a hidden gem.
The music of Spectral Lore has never been difficult to describe, but while viewing black metal as a central entity, you can look at Spectral Lore as a cosmic wraith whom lingers on the outskirts of its presence. As the band has evolved over the years, they have become more progressive in sound while still retaining their ambient roots, thus avoiding the raw edge of the genre’s founding and instead existing as a polar pull of pure atmosphere from each end of the spectrum. That said, it will be unexpected for many that the new full-length, “Sentinel”, opens with a fervent boom of thrashy and furious blackened death riffs and traditional blasts. It doesn’t take long before the true face of the project is exposed however through a cinematic pause and ethereal, minimal guitar tremolo that carries the lines of poetry taken from the Nahua people of North / Central America:
to be stained
cross my path”
With its existence suddenly evaporating into a droning ambiance with distant whispers and all the coldness of the vast expanses to great the listener, the song simply ceases to be before “The Dejection of Arjuna” quickly grasps the reigns in a violent unsheathing of melodic blackened Pagan riffs. These riffs are awash equally with the blood and depravity of battles and the melancholia and torturous reflections of the memories between as seen through the eyes of the Hero of the Mahabharata, Arjuna; a character whom opens the track in an emotionally overwhelmed, if not hopeless, state after seeing the Kaurava Army in a moment in the Bhagavad Gita. This track evolves into a psychologically torn and battle-torn epic, ending in a powerful verse where Arjuna’s strength is once again found — “Shake off faint-heartedness and arise, O scorcher of enemies!” — as the distant and subtle sound of battle is heard in the distance. “The Coming of Age” focuses most on an Opeth-like progressive composition through extremely melodic work, on both guitar and bass, through odd time signatures and equally unusual percussive patterns. Featuring a unique philosophy that is equally ancestral and Jungian, this track embraces both the protagonist’s ancestral past as his ultimate destiny as well as his psychological shadow in an attempt to find balance for the path ahead.
“Sentinel” goes on to share influences and inspirations from the likes of Plato’s Myth of Er as well as many other personal insights into the protagonist’s spiritual dimensions, climaxing with “Quest for the Supramental” where the project’s atmospheric and ambient means take full force over top of a visceral grasp for spiritual evolution. To break free from the grip of our realm and the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth; a search for the path that is neither “good” nor “evil”, but rather, as the music states, “a truth that is whole”. To ascend to and be embraced by the Godhead, and to attain divinity through infinity. The “protagonist” that I keep referring to is obviously the Sentinel that is alluded to through the album’s own title, but who is the Sentinel? What does he protect? From my own perspective, I can only see him manifest as a personification of time itself — the ancient warrior as old as any particle born into this universe — awaiting his rest at the end of being. Or perhaps it is simply one man, whom, as referenced many times in the Bhagavad Gita, contains the universe within himself and is equally a part of the universe.
The style of Spectral Lore changes a bit with the split with Locust Leaves, evolving into more of a straight-forward, nearly Viking-esque Pagan black metal with nearly depressive vocals that scream out in haunting fashion instead of the drawn-back gutteral effort that was displayed on “Sentinel”. Here the progressive nature of the band is absolutely present with impressive scale-running bass melodies underneath of both exceptionally epic/catchy guitar work full of triplet-chugs, solo-style bridging and blackened fury — complete with guitar breaks that both hearkens back to old school heavy metal harmonies and octaves and represents the newer styles of instrumental progsters and epic sludge-driven emotion a la Isis. Lyrically this track is just as beautiful, following in the ancestral spirit of the previous release as an unknown figure, deeply situated within a vision, observes an ancient phantasm whom walks a path of thorns in search of natural elements in our world — seeds, stones — to hide away in its dimension of flesh and bone. The phantasm faces a white stone, out of reach and blocked by thorns, as the protagonist tries to find memory of his surroundings and use the symbology to evolve his own spirit — he whom bears witness to the ghost of the cosmos, he who gives us form and lights the fire within our hearts, and in the end extinguishes it.
Along with Spectral Lore on this two-track split is Locust Leaves, a project from which little is known about and whom seem to be making their debut appearance here. Their track is split into three chapters and contains music that is mostly fairly straight-forward but impressively performed/produced melodic death metal. The second chapter, however, contains a doomy atmospheric approach that is reminiscent of the French style of Your Shapeless Beauty. This chapter also ends with a vocal effort on the traditional side of things that unfortunately seemed out of place and had shaky tones which, as far as I can tell, is the only negative aspect to either release mentioned here. Regardless, they’ve impressed through having an incredibly professional production on their track that is both heavy as hell and nearly structurally perfect, never leaving a dull moment even in melodic lines which are just unpredictable enough to keep it interesting.
01) All Devouring Earth
02) The Dejection of Arjuna
03) The Coming of Age
04) Quest for the Supramental
05) My Ascension into the Celestial Spheres
06) Atlus – A World within a World
Spectral Lore / Locust Leaves Split:
01) Spectral Lore – Duty
02) Locust Leaves – Promise