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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.