“No eternity was ever promised to you, child…”
Music that is existential in nature has an immense tendency to transport listeners into its own world. Like dead flies sucked through a vacuum, we are, if only for a brief moment, forced into an artistic whirlwind of imaginative words and sounds that are interpreted by the protagonist of each artistic expression. In the case of Spectral Lore‘s latest album, III, one might as well suggest that our protagonist is the sole creator of its entire project, Ayloss.
Spectral Lore broke through some major popularity barriers with its release of Sentinel nearly two years ago, and has since released some great split material with Mare Cognitum and Locust Leaves. As marvelous as it has been to watch Ayloss’ progression through what is now his primary musical outlet in the metal world, we have finally reached a point at which it’s safe to say Spectral Lore now exists safely in a league of its own. Yes, folks, the last few offerings from this Greek musical philosopher may have grabbed brilliance by its rim and hovered over the ground for a while, but with III… Ayloss fucking soars.
III is the lengthiest release Spectral Lore has put forth to date, but it is by no means a chore. (Disc one is named “Singularity” and disc two is named “Eternity”). With barrages of new riffs, acoustic and vocal passages at every turn, III leaves its listeners yearning for just one more drop of each song segment like a desperate farmer looking out over his dry, barren field. And this begins immediately. Within a split-second of the album’s first track, “Omphalos,” the listener is blasted into an otherworldly dimension, and it is from there that they become one with the music until the record is complete. Try it out:
There are two central motifs in each of the three non-instrumental tracks on the first disk. The first half of each song seems to contain strong evidence for an existential crisis that the protagonist is having, and it is resolved each time only by an introspective realization that our main character is either having with himself, with the universe or both. Pick up a Franz Kafka novella. Read it halfway through. Put it down. Pick up a Ralph Waldo Emerson essay. Read it halfway through. Put it down. That’s honestly what the music feels like, and it’s quite invigorating. And the album’s imagery, although curious on a whole new level, perfectly matches the bridges between each outburst of guitar melodies.
One can quite easily hear that Ayloss has mastered each of the instruments he plays on his latest album, but it is the guitars that seem to always take precedence over everything else. Whether it be crafting infectiously delicious riffs or conjuring up tremolo melodies that tear through the fabric of the universe, the guitar work that is featured here keeps transporting you to new dimension after new dimension.
Between what one would normally construe to be the album’s “main” segments, the overtly relaxing and bizarre transitionary points in each song take you to new realm after new realm, as it’s impossible not to listen to this album without contemplating the delightfully fucked up cover art drawn up by Benjamin A. Vierling as you try and relate to III’s introspective lyrics. (Vierling also does work for Aosoth, Nightbringer, Watain, Weapon, etc.).
“The Cold March Towards Eternal Brightness” is the monster of the first disc, and it is absolutely gorgeous albeit no more spectacular than the American folk-sounding acoustic track that follows. The concluding instrumental of “Singularity” comes as a perfect moment for one to contemplate the meaning of the album’s first three songs, as it is imperative that the lyrics are pondered upon along with the music. What’s amazing is that Spectral Lore nails the folk sound with even more accuracy and emotion than Panopticon itself.
Again, although the acoustic guitars are the highlight on “Singularity’s” final track, cellos, pianos and very deep, clean vocals only enhance the beauty of the album’s plethora of emotions. If III ended here, it would still be a greater accomplishment than any other band has put forth in quite some time, and I mean that sincerely. I was never a huge fan of Spectral Lore before, and I wasn’t even too excited about being asked to review a near-90 minute album. Nevertheless, here I stand, preemptively stating that it may take a miracle for another album to take this one’s place as my top pick come the year’s end. And now onto the second disc…
The musical showmanship is immediately even more apparent on “Eternity” than on any song on “Singularity,” as is the existential dilemma of the protagonist. “The Spiral Fountain” takes the place of a sieve, through which all of the III‘s emotions pour when the listener is met with their final onslaught of magnificent emotion in the album’s keystone, “A Rider Through the Lands of an Infinite Dreamscape.” Ultimately, this is the song that serves as the final answer to all of the questions that were being sought throughout III‘s entirety:
“Why did the first organic molecule copy itself?
Did it think it could retain its consciousness that way?
Or hoped that its offspring would someway, someday, escape mortality?
Maybe through constant change and evolution?
“Why would we have attained consciousness,
If we were always supposed to adhere to the Eternal Law?”
“Is my Will opposite to that of the Outer?
Or, can we forge paths of harmony, inbetween us?”
As the final moments of III come to a close, you may find yourself listening all over again, as if no time has passed at all. Such is the magic of the atmospheric black metal genre. Few can pull it off correctly, if at all, and Spectral Lore certainly has here. This is a colossal canvas folks; one that will forcibly take you away into a maelstrom of far-out thoughts, imagery and sounds.
But unlike so much atmospheric black metal out there — whether it be the nightmarish imaginations of The Ruins of Beverast‘s Rain Upon The Impure, the ear-straining vagueness of Darkspace‘s III or the emotional shallowness of Krallice‘s past few albums — Spectral Lore is just what the world needed: atmospheric black metal that feels like an embrace.