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Back in '07, Spectral Lore, the solo project of Greek musician, Ayloss, surprised me greatly both musically and visually through his second full-length album, simply titled, 'II.' A five year gap between albums allowed Ayloss time to work with his death metal band, Divine Element, before returning to work on Spectral Lore and yet again here in 2012 releasing another ambitious album titled, 'Sentinel.'
Forgoing the rawer black metal approach and toning down on the lengthy ambient sections, the listener is abused with an arsenal of Deathspell Omega-ish styled riffs as well as the more repetitive tremolo picked style the genres known for. Each of the songs come on furiously and toss A LOT at the listener, this however is no mere copy, as the whole thing is a heavily layered and experimental affair. Often switching between abrasive bludgeoning rhythms, mid-paced streaks, calmer dirge like sections and spacey ambient outros, 'Sentinel' feels more epic in its overall scope, but still dissonant and chaotic enough where its going to require several listens before it coalesces in your mind.
The first two songs, 'All Devouring Earth' & 'The Dejection Of Arjuna' have the habit of being powerful and overwhelming in their delivery, though each also feature a portion of symphonic and dazzling melodies that sound fresh, majestic and impressive amongst such bedlam. I fully realize that doesn't make since but somehow Ayloss managed to make the opposite ends fit, its discordant while being accordant, and its honestly breathtaking once you get used to this mans style.
'The Coming of Age' has a bit more of traditional and speedier approach, but still doesn't skimp on the melodic parts whatsoever, while 'Quest For The Supramental' just builds and builds, slowly, but around the five minute mark breaks free with an almost death metal-ish sounding rhythm before slowing up again in favor of a more ethnic sort of vibe that reminds me of the interludes from Teitanblood's 'Seven Chalices.' 'My Ascension Into The Celestial Spheres' is all over the place as far as speed is concerned, but much like the last song it builds and escalates towards the stars with its fair share of epicness and smooth ambiance to end it. 'Atlus - A World Within A World' concludes the album on a high note, though one that many might not find agreeing. As a thirty minute purely ambient piece, its definitely different from the violent nature of the previous five songs, but fans of the genre will be delighted by this transcendental spacey composition.
I also have to point out that the digipak is absolutely stunning, featuring a gorgeous cover artwork as well the art and lyrics within the booklet are something to behold. If there's really anything to speak negatively about, its simply the fact that the recording is rather quiet, despite being well produced. I'm not sure how that happened or if my ears are just worse than I previously imagined, but its sort of frustration to have to turn the volume up to levels I'd normally never hit.
As a whole, were talking seventy five minutes here, 'Sentinel' is no easy ride, at first, but after numerous spins it really manages to make sense. Between glorious guitar melodies, pummeling and well played drums, marvelous symphonic and ambient undertones and enough action both calmly and destructively to satisfy any eclectic black metal listener, 'Sentinel' is where its at! I adore the way each listen seems to reveal something I previously missed, either something synthetic, or a particular guitar riff or even Ayloss' guttural vocal approach always seem different with each subsequent exploration. That doesn't happen often.
Furthermore, I simply can't recommend this one enough, and if it wasn't the end of the year and if I actually paid more attention to newer releases I wouldn't, but since it is, and I don't, I will.
Spectral Lore's 'Sentinel' is by far the finest black metal record I've heard this year. Nothing comes close to touching the diversity of the songs arrangements, the brilliant, epic and mesmerizing nature of the whole thing and the fact that is was created by just one individual seems impossible, but it is. You'd do well to check this one out, because I'd imagine like most of his releases its probably limited and wont be around forever...
Originally posted at Lunar Hypnosis (http://lunarhypnosis.blogspot.com)
True to the astrally-themed album cover, there is something about Spectral Lore’s “Sentinel” that screams of a cosmic atmosphere. Considering the band’s audible inspiration from the Norwegian black metal canon, it would have been more expected to have this one-man Greek act conjure up images of frostbitten woods or some Mediterranean equivalent. No, Spectral Lore finds itself firmly rooted within a sound far-removed from the Earth; something I might hopefully-unpretentiously label as ‘cosmic black metal’. Akin to a more melodic Blut Aus Nord, Spectral Lore brings a very dark, brooding atmosphere to bear on their third full-length. There remains the sense that the project still has some way to go before it reaches its potential, but it’s rare to find a one-man project with such a vast sense of scope and ambition as Spectral Lore exhibits here.
Multi-instrumentalist Ayloss (also part of the Greek death metal band Divine Element) has a great ear for the vast and epic potential of his style. “Sentinel” is an album where the ambiance and atmosphere remains the key element to the music. The production is blanketed in layered arrangements and sheets of reverb, and the compositions are dissonant enough to keep a listener unfocused even after several listens. In spite of this ambient feeling, Spectral Lore tends to get pretty chaotic, particularly with the guitar work. Incorporating a thick blend of jarring Deathspell Omega-esque riffs with the more familiar melodic tremolo picking of the genre’s forefathers, the ideas come on harsh and fast. With the typical track resting somewhere around the ten minute mark, Ayloss jams plenty of musical ideas into each song. “Sentinel” is a sure step away from many of the more repetitive ‘ambient black metal’ acts; Spectral Lore gets its atmosphere across by disorienting the listener with a flurry of challenging ideas.
Ayloss gives the guitar parts an excellent back-up, through subtly eerie synths and effective, aggressive drum patterns. Although his growled vocals would not sound out of place in a death metal band, the way Ayloss’ voice is meshed into the production, it tends to fade into the rest of the mix, as were it a howl heard from some distance. This is not a bad thing by any means, allowing for the music to retain its ambient edge in spite of the extreme vocal style. The lyrics dabble with an interesting metaphysical perspective of philosophy and religion, although as far as the largely incomprehensible growls are concerned, the lyrics are best explored by reading them. Although there are plenty of excellent musical ideas throughout each of the five proper tracks, there is the sense that these compositions could have been structured more effectively. As enjoyable as the sense of chaos is at first, repeated listens yearn for a greater sense of cohesion within each track. Considering the wealth of ideas within each track however, it’s no surprise that the music comes off feeling a little unfocused.
As challenging as the album is as black metal canon is concerned, Spectral Lore leaves the biggest head-scratcher for last. “Atlus” is the sixth and final track on the album, taking up a massive half hour chunk of the album. Before reaching this part of the album, I had the idea in my head of some colossal epic that could possibly take all of the best elements of the album and forge them into the album’s greatest piece. Instead, Spectral Lore opt for a drawn out segment of dark ambiance. Although this could have conceivably succeeded on the drawing board, the music is dreadfully inactive and quiet, even for the ambient style. I feel better thinking of this as some sort of post-album exit music, but considering that it eats up two fifths of the album’s length overall, it’s a pretty difficult blunder to ignore. Some listeners may find the odd synth flourish chilling, but the barely-audible atmosphere is a pretty lame way to end what was otherwise a great album.
Barring the album’s greatest misstep, Spectral Lore has created an impressive third album with “Sentinel”. Fans of Blut Aus Nord and The Ruins of Beverast will find something to appreciate here. Sporting a vast production and some of the best guitar work I’ve recently heard in the genre, Ayloss has some great things going for him on this album. It will be great to see if he’s able to improve on this existing style with the next album.
Alas, another throne has been usurped, and I have found myself once more late to the coronation. Though one of my co-bloggers covered the Spectral Lore sophomore II a few years back, Sentinel is actually my first exposure to the Greek act, and it's by far one of the most ambitious and evocative black metal recordings I've heard this year, combining the far left chaos of explosive, quasi-experimental fiends like Deathspell Omega and Dodecahedron with the stronger sense of fundamental melodic tremolo picking and grandeur possessed by Norse acts through the 90s: Mayhem, Emperor, Immortal, Satyricon and Enslaved. A one-man symphony of staggering ability, and an unpredictable landscape of dissonant miasma and floods of overwhelming rapture.
Sentinel is a nightmare embodied into airy flights of sinister, streamed tremolo guitars, meticulous blasting and ominous growls and rasps so insidious that one might feel one has attracted the ill favor of the Olympians on high, just waiting for whatever curse they send down upon you. This is heavily textured music, and it's incredibly rare that you'll find only one thing happening at a time. The guitars are tracked with much nuance, crisp and bleeding note progressions that almost entire evade the burden of derivative placement. There is a tendency towards orchestrated acceleration throughout the whole of the album, but Spectral Lore can also settle into a slower, progressive groove like "The Coming of Age" without losing a fraction of intricacy. The riffs whip around the listener like the tethering tentacles of some Cyclopean, otherworldly lifeform, gradually sucking him or her into a hidden pocket of reality. The drums alternate between eruptions of unbridled violence and jazzier fills and rhythms that maintain a substrate of complexity even when one strips away the adventurous guitars. The vocals are threatening and petulant, even though their presence is often too sparse, but part of this is that over 30 minutes of the album have been committed to a single ambient track...
Which might have proven a detriment, if "Atlus (A World Within a World)" wasn't one of the most lush and impressive pieces on the entirely of the album. A contrast to the cavorting, evolving chaos of the metallic compositions, perhaps, but incredibly gripping, and aesthetically flush with the album's gorgeous cover art. It's like starting off some mystical evening with an incendiary, psychedelic, structured black metal jam session and then having Peter Andersson of Raison d'être show up to score the after party, when all the maniacs are stoned on a grassy hillside, grazing on celestial bodies. That Spectral Lore's sole author of pain, Ayloss can shift from one extreme to the other without losing focus or sacrificing quality is something baffling to me, and yet here it is, scrawled out across the firmament like a nebula of nihilistic ravens. Sentinel holds up after numerous listens, with more pieces of its puzzle unraveling aurally and existentially each time. Every calm and every storm dwells upon the imagination with a supernatural contemplation. Don't expect a Triarchy of the Lost Lovers here, or Scarlet Evil Witching Black; apart from the mystical fabrics of, say, Acherontas, Spectral Lore doesn't have a lot in common with their classic countrymen. But this is by far the best record to hail from that scene in nearly a decade.
Epic morphing into mesmerizing, complex blasting into transcendental, impenetrable becoming a monument right before your eyes, obscurity evoking triumph... Sentinel is all that. And more. As if its predecessor, II, wasn't monstrous enough, Sentinel takes Spectral Lore's style to a new level where there are even fewer rules, even more twists and turns, and the levels of savagery occasionally go beyond belief and human imagination (imagine The Ruins of Beverast and Haeresiarchs of Dis having a fight while Emperor and Deathspell Omega are too afraid to go near).
Even though at times the slow, lightless ambient bits can get too long (I'm talking "seconds too long" here) they absolutely serve the purpose of making the listener expect and try to predict what the hell Spectral Lore will do next, and unless you listen to Sentinel quite a few times, you won't be able to guess. If you do remember one bit, you probably failed to notice a small, victorious ornament on the other side of the sound spectrum.
The labyrinth of instruments leaves no blank spaces, no really relaxing moments where you can, if you listen harder, find another nuance. Act as if there is no point in trying to decipher the compositions, and they might be revealed to you.
And that's without taking the lyrics into account - partly inspired by passages from Bhagavad Gita, partly by Plato, the rest being a solid philosophy of what most of humanity is yet to realize, they deserve a special mention. By following them - or at least by trying to - along with the music things might become somewhat clearer, but until the time for that comes the only clear part will be the final, lengthy ambient aftermath.
Sentinel is one of the very few black metal albums of this kind, where artistic vision, inspiration and technical mastery don't want to know about limits. It's hard to imagine someone doing more than what this one person did... Until, maybe, the next Spectral Lore album? I'm afraid to ask. (9.5/10)
(originally written for http://www.maelstrom.nu)
The metal genre has become so saturated that bands nowadays attempt to differentiate themselves from others with the attachment of a running theme into their music, often resulting in hilarious and at times ridiculous tags, such as pirate metal. Other bands take a more subtle route, such as Spectral Lore, who has dubbed their music “transcendental black metal”. Transcendental black metal has left quite a bad impression on me with bands like Liturgy single-handedly destroying whatever image people have of the genre, not only with their music but also with the ridiculous (and pretentious) ideologies that the band claim to propagate with their music. The usage of such a tag has also left me wondering what “transcendental black metal” really sounded like compared to more traditional black metal.
With Sentinel, Spectral Lore‘s third full length album though, the band proves itself to really be quite a traditional black metal band, though with an extremely heavy emphasis on the atmospheric aspects in the music. The coldness and bleakness in the music is clear right from the start with All Devouring Earth, not only through the riffs that band mastermind Ayloss unleashes, but also with the various ambient effects that are utilised throughout the album, as the listener is constantly soaked in a dense atmosphere from the start all the way till the end. The huge-sounding percussions in the music, the entire atmospheric experience somewhat brings to mind bands such as Summoning, though the black metal aesthetics are more apparent in Spectral Lore‘s art especially on tracks like The Dejection of Arjuna. Ayloss also proves his songwriting mastery with the song progressions as well, with the riffs and transitions in the songs effectively telling the stories that are present on Sentinel, constantly transiting between more calming and soothing moments and frantic, chaotic ones with the furious, trem-picked guitar playing especially on The Dejection of Arjuna which sees the band changing style with every change in mood. The track even sees Ayloss including effects that sound like horns used on the battlefield to further suit the theme and mood of the track.
For the most part, Sentinel is a heavily-instrumental album, with most of the album being instrumental segments, and vocals, where present, also often function as an additional instrument serving to enhance the atmosphere apart from a means of lyrical delivery. The emphasis on the ambient is perhaps most clearly shown on the closing track, Atlus (A World Within a World), a 30-minute instrumental track that is mostly devoid of instrumentation, with only the sounds of the recurring ambience towards the end of All Devouring Earth present on the track, sounding almost like a soundtrack fore meditation for the listener. Furthermore, the track constantly alternates between unease and calmness.
The transcendental aspect of the band is probably displayed in the lyrical side of the band, with lyrics that range from the rather abstract themes of nature to the story of Arjuna’s dilemma on the battlefield of the Vedic epic Bhagavad Gita on The Dejection of Arjuna. The only band that I have encountered tackling such themes is the mighty Rudra, and seeing another band providing their take on the story was certainly a draw for me, making the experience of Sentinel all the more enchanting.
Sentinel, with all its ambient elements that have been fused into Spectral Lore‘s brand of black metal, has resulted in a rather overwhelming experience that those unaccustomed to would find hard to listen in a single sitting. However, as one slowly absorbs and begins to understand the album, the quality of the album becomes clear, with brilliant songwriting and song arrangements by band mastermind Ayloss making the journey a rather impactful and memorable one.
Black metal music is usually fairly straightforward and linear, close to rock and punk spirit. However, some artists choose to push the boundaries of this style by incorporating psychedelic and contemporary music elements in it. Obtained result is often confusing, even cacophonous. Some groups however, manage to stand out and gain fan respect thanks to their work quality, even though countless listenings are needed to properly enter into such hermetic musical universe. So it is with caution that I discovered Spectral Lore, a Greek band whose sole member was kind enough to send me his latest album called Sentinel.
From the outset, avant-garde character of this recording jumps to the ears. Harmonic structures deployed by its author are very complex, relying on an aggressiveness that sometimes reminds Deathspell Omega material, especially on All Devouring Earth, which opens the album. Rest of it, however, depends much more on disheveled atmospheres development, made of sketches linked with disjointed rhythmic patterns, sometimes without any apparent continuity.
Despite this, and although I’m not particularly enamored of such a style, I can recognize quality work. A real concern is given to song writing, which goes beyond simple collage. The author manages to incorporate more accessible elements to his music, including song called The Coming of Age, which offers a respite with good riffs and a more homogeneous environment. But I still feel compelled to admit that I never managed to finish the last piece of the album, instrumental and endless Atlus (A World Within A World), whose atmospheric thirty minutes almost made fell asleep.
It’s difficult to assign an overall rating to such a work. Sentinel reminds me author theory, addressing a specific audience, eager for novelty and seeking new forms of intellectual stimulation. Most black metal aficionados who prefer a more direct music will surly skip their turn with this record. Therefore, you may enter the world of Spectral Lore with all necessary precautions. You have been warned. (6/10)
Originally written for Métal Obscur.