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Towards the middle of the road - 70%

FearAbsentia, January 30th, 2017

Atmospheric black metal generally isn't my thing. I love black metal, but I like mine to be gritty, have thrash-leaning riffing, and punchy. That's the reason why most of my favorite black metal bands end up on the melodic, thrash, or old-school side of things. Apart from a few exceptions like Myrkur, I generally find atmospheric black metal to be forgettable, derivative, contrived, and overall boring. I get that it's a genre that's supposed to take you on some sort of journey, but apart from Alcest's Kodama which I don't even consider to be metal, I've never really gotten that feeling from this stuff.

Many of these atmospheric acts are one-man/woman bands, and Spectral Lore comes as no exception. Released to critical acclaim, Ayloss' (the man behind Spectral Lore) strangely titled fourth album leaves me somewhat in the middle. There is some fantastic stuff to be heard here, as well as some that is very typical of the genre. Interestingly, I find the best track to be one that is not metal at all, "Drifting Through Moss and Ancient Stone". This is a very beautiful instrumental folk tune that may remind one of the classical guitar playing of Steve Howe or Still Life-era Opeth. There is also some great piano work that blends nicely with the classical guitar, as well as atmospheric chanting-type vocals at the end.

The opening track on disc two, "The Spiral Fountain" continues from where the aforementioned last song left off. It begins with a similar classical guitar motif, but soon brings the black metal in. This song is blasting with melodic guitar leads, surprisingly guttural roars for black metal, and having a perfect atmosphere. What makes the atmosphere work so well here is the fact that it's the beautiful melodies of the guitar that creates the atmosphere rather than a synthetic echo effect that drones over the rest of the music. I can't stress how great the guitar riffs and melodies are in this song enough, it sends chills down my spine.

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the album either falls in place of typical bland atmospheric black metal or features some good ideas mixed in with said sound. Thankfully though, there is one more great song other then the aforementioned tracks. Spectral Lore's III ends with another beautiful track as the finale, "Cosmic Significance". The first half of this song is comprised of sweet melancholy keys that do make me feel like I'm on a lonely yet alluring journey through deep space. The banging and surprisingly catchy beat of the drums slowly announce for the other instruments to come in. Some of the guitar melodies actually remind me of Eloy here. It certainly gives the album an epic climax.

While the three songs I described are among the most beautiful songs I've ever heard, that's only a half-hour of a nearly 90-minute album. It's a real shame, because if Spectral Lore had honed in his sound and maybe made an album with those three songs, it would be a masterpiece. Fans of atmospheric black metal will of course eat this up either way, but for those of you like me who prefer your black metal to have more hooks and memorable riffing, give this a try.


Reaching out to greatness. - 95%

DSOfan97, August 27th, 2015

Ayloss found a way to surprise us again. This album, which is Spectral Lore's fourth full-length (don't get tricked by the title) is one of the most refreshing albums that I came across last year. Its progressive intentions do not spoil the black metal element and yet, the black metal element is not entirely in control. Without a doubt, I can say that this album stood out mostly because of the central idea behind it, which of course affected even its slightest detail. What is it? Replacing the always present negativity, with a more optimistic approach towards the genre. Instead of being misanthropic, III is a journey that explores man's destiny and hails the human significance.

One of the album's admirable feats is its length. Sure, this isn't as long as any of Midnight Odyssey's full-lengths, but that only works for the best. You won't feel lost amidst the notes and ideas when listening to III, in the contrary, the album sinks in immediately and while one might feel a bit boggled or numbed after the first listen, it won't be long before a second listen becomes a necessity. And while its length might scare some listeners, III is so full of quality, that you will find it hard to tell how time came to pass that quickly.

Drawing influence from many different genres (black metal, folk, bluegrass, doom to name a few) III succeeds in merging all the elements into one great album. Ayloss spent six years to make this album trying to make it perfect and he came pretty damn close to achieving it. Some of the changes he did can be noticed, such as the differing production qualities from track to track or even his capability in execution. The guitars which have the central role (more than the vocals) always manage to draw the attention to their melodies. Also, the harmonies between the stacked guitar recordings are remarkable and there is always an apex, a climax in every song that provides the release of all the tension (and believe me there's a lot of tension) and leaves you with a gaping jaw and occasionally a teary eye, or something. The bass lines are not always awe-inspiring, but they are well written, balanced, heavy and capable of achieving some of the greatness of the 70's. The drums, probably programmed, tend to stick to the basics, with some exceptions. Blast beats are extensively used, however there are some breaks where the drumming calms down a little bit. The use of keyboards and pianos, graces the album's atmosphere with some elegant touches here and there, mostly in the exclusively acoustic fourth track. Ayloss' vocals are buried into the mix unfortunately but the lyrics are great. You can read them even without simultaneously listening to the album, and they'll still be an enjoyable reading. Revolving around subjects such as will, growth, power, significance and destiny, they're not naive at the slightest and they certainly raise the album's value in my eyes.

Spectral Lore is a project to admire, follow and spend time listening to it. Ayloss has the knowledge and persistence to make every one of his efforts special and every album a real treat for the listener. III is no exception. What am I saying? III is his best work yet, the only album that I appreciated almost as much as Memoria Vetusta III in 2014 and with such songs, how could it not be? I haven't heard so much musical diversity in one album, in quite some time. This album is absolutely essential, and if my words sound exaggerating, listen for yourselves.

Favorite tracks: "The Cold March Towards Eternal Brightness", "The Spiral Fountain", "A Rider Through the Lands of an Infinite Dreamscape".


He did it again. - 100%

Opus_Oculto, March 28th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2014, Digital, I, Voidhanger Records

He did it again.

Ayloss, the man behind the mystical Greek atmospheric black metal band Spectral Lore, released once again a work of high artistic level, surprising even the older fans of the band III, as the album is simply called (logically following the tradition of the previous ones, I and II). This is a collection of songs whose diversity makes the listener get immersed in a mental journey through uncharted regions or parallel dimensions of outer space. It is a grand and epic work, long enough to take the listener to a state of musical trance.

Each track carries a different aspect of the band, ranging from the chaotic black metal characteristic of Spectral Lore, where several instruments overlap simultaneously generating a sense of disorder and despair (as in the opening track of the album, Omphalos) to merely instrumental tracks, played on the acoustic guitar, as The Rider in The Lands Of An Infinite Dreamscape, which seems to have come from an Opeth album. The vocals, always in the background in the mix, are one of the strengths of III, presenting a strong and well done guttural.

But Spectral Lore’s III is all about melodies: they appear all the time, on all tracks. Long, rhythmic, creative melodies that sound so dark and melancholic in some songs, aggressive and cutting in others. The guitars are the flagship of the songs, giving place for all the creativity of Ayloss to manifest.

The tracks evolve beautifully, always mixing different instruments in an atmosphere that goes from the calm sound of a synthesizer to pure black metal blast beats. It really does not seem to be a one man band. III is a great work of versatility and is not limited to present typical atmospheric black metal that you find in bands like Mare Cognitum or Darkspace. Here the multi-instrumentalism makes the listener travel through several musical genres within one album, or even a single song. Lyrics are also very inspiring, most of them telling histories about ancient Greek mythology and self-knowledge.

Definitely one of the best releases of the genre in 2014.

My album of the year... Or maybe even decade. - 100%

Getblod, October 20th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, 2CD, I, Voidhanger Records (Digipak, Limited edition)

Wow. Never before has an album "wowed" me like this one. Allow me to begin:

When I first listened to this album, I didn't like it. I was amazed by the cover art, and decided to give it a listen. Just the opening song, "Omphalos," was enough to turn me off. I didn't listen to it again until weeks later, while doing homework. Halfway through, it clicked. And I was addicted. Although it's length may seem threatening at first, it goes by very quickly. If you still can't handle listening to all 1.5 hours, I suggest listening to only one side at first. If you don't like the opening track, keep going! It will make sense further along your journey...

Each song has a role to play in this masterpiece of an album. I see it as a grande story, with each song completing an epic chapter. The lyrics on this album should be noted too. They're based on philosophy and Greek mythology, staying thought provoking and interesting without appearing pretentious. The vocals are like an instrument, existing to guide each song with emotion, mood, and atmosphere. During the second track, "The Veiled Garden", Ayloss' vocal style is a much slower pace, similar to doom most of the time. But in fast paced tracks such as "Omphalos," his vocal style becomes much more aggressive.

Another thing that impressed me is the variety of instruments used. Pianos, acoustic guitars, synth, etc. are all used throughout the album, making it a combination of all sorts of genres. The final track is a great example of this. Beginning with an calming ambient intro, it stays like this until halfway through, when other instruments come into play. Eventually it sounds like there's a full orchestra playing, before slowly returning to the calm ambiance of the synth.

I really could write much more about this album, but I'm on a phone and typing is a pain. If you're interested in philosophy or enjoy complex and epic song structures, then this album is for you! This is one of the few albums I've ever rated as a perfect 10/10, yet this album deserves it, if not higher. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

How? - 95%

boboy, August 26th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, 2CD, I, Voidhanger Records (Digipak, Limited edition)

Ever since Bruce Springsteen’s The River, I have been deeply sceptical of the concept of a double album. Science has fairly conclusively shown us that the limits to human attention span are consistently shorter than we may think, or even want them to be. By stretching an album across two CDs, artists run the risk of totally overwhelming the listener with sheer volume of material, and the physical break in the album’s play length creates a less than ideal situation where one disc may be preferred to the detriment of the other. However, if there is one album that could ever make me change my stance on this, and tearfully accept the double album into my heart, this album is the album. Spectral Lore’s beautifully packaged III is two discs (Singularity and Eternity) united by one piece of breathtaking cover art, and it is simply one of the most scintillating metal releases that I have ever heard.

The opener, Omphalos, is simultaneously the shortest, darkest and most conventional track on offer here, and it tears open the first disc with dour and haunting chords over a feverish blastbeat, reminiscent in its construction of Spectral Lore’s Sentinel record of 2012. The middle portion of the track fades away to an airy ambience, before sweeping the stage clean with an ever expanding melodic motif. It is moments like this where Ayloss demonstrates immense restraint and concision when conveying ideas, as in just 7 and a half minutes, we are treated to such wild variety without compromising any flow or pace.

Omphalos is however the oddball here, and stands as the only track to not break into double digit length. For the bulk of this release, Ayloss adopts sprawling grandeur as his brush of choice, and what a truly magnificent picture he paints. Eternity’s The Spiral Fountain is the uncontested champion of this songwriting approach, building itself up to a swirling and cathartic tumult, blending beautiful melodies with complex musical arrangement, and constantly taking the listener by surprise with its emergent progressions. This track is a compositional masterclass from beginning to end, and it firmly beats its chest at the once assumed masters of black metal musicianship. Ihsahn who?

But III is not a one hit wonder dragged along by this track’s uncompromising strength; not by a long shot. Of the more black metal oriented tracks on here, The Veiled Garden is most similar in structure, and covers so much ground during its 16 minutes that we are offered everything from acoustic fingerpicking, to a crushing doom segment. A Rider Through The Lands Of An Infinite Dreamscape inherits its name from a previous Spectral Lore track, and brings major key bombast and triumph into the fray, with the song revisiting variations on a heroic opening melody to great effect. The Cold March Towards Eternal Brightness explores everything from Iron Maiden-esque melodies, to folk-tinged 1990’s black metal with spoken word accompaniment.

Across all these tracks, such variety of styles is demonstrated, but the focus and direction of the album remains so clear, without any musical rambling. It really is mesmerizing. As a multi-instrumentalist, Ayloss showcases incredible musicianship and versatility, but he never allows the songs to succumb to egotism or tackiness brought on by the prowess of his playing. This musical proficiency is best demonstrated in the more obtuse and unorthodox tracks of the album. Drifting Through Moss And Ancient Stone is an 11 and a half minute long virtuosic acoustic guitar piece, which somehow dazzles from start to finish. The ragtime piano accompaniment; the clicks and slaps on the guitar that so confidently exude Don Ross or Antoine Dufour inspiration; the gentle flute that dances above and around; there are just no words for this level of musical mastery.

The instrumental closing track Cosmic Significance is equally eccentric and beguiling, as we are invited in with a warm 1970’s synth melody which underpins the track’s growth into an electric monster. Some 14 minutes later, we plummet over a peak and shrink back to the gentle ruminations of the intro; drawing the second disc to a close and leaving us to wonder were the last hour and a half has gone. Despite the ample length of all of the tracks here, the strong composition prevents any possible sense of ennui or restlessness. Never have I experienced 11, 14 and 16 minute tracks which are so engaging and consistent across their entire length. Furthermore, transitions between seemingly disparate sections of these songs are so well executed, that there is never an Opethian judder moment to be found. The songs flow and arc across their massive lengths with such elegance, that I simply cannot pick a single moment where a riff or sequence felt forced or out of place.

And that really is just about everything I can say about this record. III is conceptually, musically and stylistically a masterpiece, and I do not throw that term around lightly. How I even begin to pick holes in this release is baffling and terrifying to me. In the only overt misstep I can conjure, the tail end of The Veiled Garden features a writhing tremolo riff which gradually disintegrates and accelerates along with a fierce blastbeat. Initially, this progression is scathing and chaotic, as no doubt intended. However, the drums soon exceed all human physical limitations and descend into farcical speed, which is slightly off putting when gelled with the otherwise grandiose poise of the track.

Other than this faux pas, the drums are generally well programmed, and do not detract from the surrounding music. In some parallel dimension where Ayloss was also a proficient drummer, the organic sound of a human behind the kit would add some additional beauty to the earthy sound of III, but we can’t possibly ask for total perfection in this world. I can barely bring myself to comment on something as banal as the production of an album of this musical gravity, but you will be pleased to know that there are no complaints. All the instruments and synths sound full and bright; the guitars are thick and scathing when required, and smooth elsewhere. Etcetera.

Rest assured, this review is not a flurry of fanboyism, nor is it a 90%+ by a reviewer who gives such ratings willy-nilly. There were moments when listening to III where I simply burst out laughing at how good this music was. It has nearly instantly earned a coveted space within the pantheon of my favourite metal albums of all time, and I can’t honestly see it leaving any time soon, as there is simply so much replay value to be expunged from its 90 minute length. Spectral Lore’s III will make you want to sell your guitar and give up, but by Jove, it’s worth it.

A nomadic conquest of the black metal genre. - 89%

ConorFynes, June 13th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, 2CD, I, Voidhanger Records (Digipak, Limited edition)

I'm honestly not sure where to begin with this one. Though my previous experiences with Greece's Spectral Lore have always sought to challenge me as a self-proclaimed veteran of atmospheric black metal, I was always able to summarize my thoughts on the music without too much of an issue. Sentinel was as ambitious an album as they come, and comparisons to Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega or even The Ruins of Beverast wouldn't have gone unfounded. It's not that Spectral Lore has switched gears on III so much as the project's range has been broadened to the point of defying any single, all-encompassing description. If anything's for certain, it's that the weight of multi-instrumentalist Ayloss' ambition has been the catalyst for one of the most intriguing, impressive and far-reaching black metal records in recent memory. For what it lacks in structural coherence or conventionally satisfying 'flow', III more than compensates with the overall impression of awe I've been left with. Even after listening to it a dozen-odd times, I still only feel I've begun to scratch the surface, and believe me when I say that it's a rare thing for a new album strikes me that way.

III feels distinguished in many ways; it's also an album I'm not sure could have been created by anyone save for a one-man band. While a collaboration between members may have entailed a measure of compromise or restriction to shared common ground, Spectral Lore feels like a stream-of-consciousness insight into Ayloss' musical tastes and aspirations. Only the work of a single artist could explain the puzzling melange and range of style on the album. Arms have been outreached to both the discordant and 'beautiful' sides of black metal alike; while the abrupt opening of "Omphalos" recalls the swirling dissonance of Portal or Deathspell Omega, "The Cold March Towards Eternal Brightness" dives midway into Woods of Desolation-variety post-black metal. When that segment tapers off, the album switches gears and immerses itself into a Nokturnal Mortum-style pagan foray, complete with folkish atmosphere and symphonic undertones. The track after that, "Drifting Through Moss and Ancient Stone", absolves itself of metal completely and aims for brooding acoustic ambiance somewhere between Americana and dark folk a la Agalloch. For most of the album's closing track "Cosmic Significance", Spectral Lore even adopts a sort of Berlin School space electronic approach in line with Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream. I could go on for ages; these change-ups are abundant and spread consistently throughout III. It's not the overwhelming range that necessarily impresses me so much as the conviction with which Ayloss drives these stylistic forays. It doesn't matter whether Spectral Lore is playing some shade of black metal or another genre entirely; the music becomes convincingly immersed in that style and it sounds like Ayloss was born to play that style. That sort of awe-inspiring versatility as a musician isn't something that can be learned directly; it can come only from an enriched knowledge of genre and sincere dedication to music. It's clear to me that Ayloss has both.

It's quite brilliant that, while III manages to convey such a rich sense of range and variety in its hour-and-a-half running time, Spectral Lore rare strays from its roots in black metal and ambient music. If anything, III is an expression of the black metal's own stylistic vastness; rest assured, Spectral Lore travel across the genre's spectrum with few stones left unturned. As so often seems to be the case for experimentally-inclined works, the defining strength of III also feels like its most crippling weakness. Sentinel was an arguably less impressive album than this, but there was a sense of all-encompassing identity that gave it logic as a start-to-finish album (its half-hour ambient denouement notwithstanding). With III, it feels like there is material enough here to inspire four or five masterpiece-worthy albums. To me, Ayloss is akin to a nomadic warlord, galloping through territories and conquering each one mercilessly, but never settling down to develop upon that success. At the end of III, as impressed as I've been with the album, I'm left wondering what potential could still be hiding in each one of Spectral Lore's styles. What if Ayloss settled down and capitalized on the dissonant black metal of "Omphalos", or the pagan atmosphere of "The Cold March Towards Eternal Brightness" and "The Spiral Fountain"? What about his ambient work; "Drifting Through Moss and Ancient Stone" and "Cosmic Significance" each hold their own promises. I don't remember the last time I heard an album that captured my imagination so much and made me wonder 'what if' like this. Ultimately, if there's one thing that's keeping me from calling III the black metal masterpiece it was created to be, it's this lack of identity, and I do think Spectral Lore could have taken the same range and structured it more effectively.

There's no doubt in my mind that Spectral Lore's music is black metal, but more than that it would be nigh-impossible to better articulate its style, save to say there are many of them. It's a frustration to me both as a listener and reviewer of the work, but it's a small burden compared to the major successes Spectral Lore has conjured on III. I have no doubt that my relationship with the album will continue to mold and evolve with the coming months, and I wouldn't dispel the possibility that the gripes I have might eventually dissipate in time. For the present, it's rather incredible to behold such an uncompromising expression of one man's artistic vision and creativity.

Also, did I forget to mention that III has my favourite album cover of 2014?

Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical

One of the best records of this decade - 100%

H_P Buttcraft, June 8th, 2014

In 2006-2007, Spectral Lore debuted with their albums ‘I’ and ‘II’ and nearly a decade later have come back to form with the moving and striking new album aptly titled ‘III’. Spectral Lore is not a band, so to speak, but really behind the veil of anonymity is the sole Greek musician nicknamed Ayloss who is some sort of Metal version of the “man behind the curtain” from The Wizard of Oz.

And that would also be saying that Ayloss is a wizard himself. Maybe not of the traditional pop culture interpretation of a wizard who can wield magic at will. No, this is a different kind of sorcerer who can illuminate, decimate and recreate entire worlds within the music he makes. Listening to Spectral Lore for the first time in one sitting is really quite a strange and mystical experience.

A song from ‘III’, like “Omphalos”, sweeps in near the end with these incredible, soaring, melodic lead guitars. The infectious rhythms of the other instruments sway underneath and take you to places inside of your imagination lit by the tinges of your emotional experiences of the music as its being played. Then comes in a breathtaking woodwind and string interlude in the middle of “The Veiled Garden” seated side-by-side with a mercilessly raw and twisted Black Metal passage that builds exponentially in fury before expiring on a delicate acoustic guitar passage overdubbing the sounds of a forest at night, crickets, howling wolves and all. And this sixteen minute-long soundscape journey is only the second track on this two disc digipak!

This entire album really is a humungous audible rainbow using sonic colors from the dark murky shades to the bright, shimmering glows. The riffs have distinct and clear characters to them that are as distinguishable as the color yellow to the color purple to the color blue. There is a wealth of variety among the songs and compositional genius of this record to enjoy. The track-lengths may come off as intimidating before your first listen but you will discover that the need for almost all of these songs to need over ten minutes of your time and attention is entirely appropriate. Keep in mind that all this is being made entirely by one single musician.

This album is an odyssey to every extent of the word. If you know anything about ancient world history, odysseys have been long-perfected by Greek artists and poets and Ayloss, in this sense, continues Homer’s regal story-telling tradition with the utmost class and respect on ‘III’.

If Ayloss truly did perform every single instrument on this album, then the man is a genius artist. The musicianship on ‘III’ is world-class with melodies, vocals and rhythms that are haunting and expressive. You can expect to hear flute, cello, fiddle, clarinet, harp and piano on this album interspersed between the long epic song compositions. It’s almost unbelievable that he played it all along with the drums, guitars, bass, keyboards and vocals. That is so amazing!

Despite never hearing any of the band’s previous releases, despite not knowing anything about this band at all, Spectral Lore have made one of the best albums I have listened to in quite a while. This is not a modestly good album, ‘III’ is an album that is easily one of the best releases I have heard so far in the past 4 years. I was completely blown away. If you are into bands like Bel’Akor, Agalloch, Krallice, Opeth or are really into Progressive music (there is so much folk and classical on the record), you will really appreciate this amazing album.

(originally published on - 6-5-2014)

The Answer Is Within - 90%

KonradKantor, May 20th, 2014

"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 disk 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.

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.

-Originally written for

Journey Trumps Destination - 90%

autothrall, May 2nd, 2014

Here at the Auto-Ranch, Spectral Lore serves as a sort of 21st century analog to the reactions I used to feel for black metal during it's 'prime' of the mid-90s: In the Nightside Eclipse, The Archaic Course, Nemesis Divina, Frost, you name it, there was just such a tangible balance of exploration, trepidation and intensity on a lot of those records which felt so overwhelmingly unique and inspiring that they still number among my favorites. Ayloss, the sole musician behind this project, might not benefit from having created or innovated such techniques, but it's what he does with them all that makes this music so captivating, rare, and endemic to that headspace I rarely get to crawl into when I've got so much black metal on my radar, that jadedness towards the genre becomes a very real threat. III, which is actually the fourth full-length to my knowledge (discounting the fantastic 2013 split with Mare Cognitum), is ultimately one of those few records that I put a lot of faith in and don't feel even remotely spurned; a varied, textured, immersive experience that I can listen through a dozen times without feeling as if I've grokked every detail...

There's an underlying compulsion to the compositions: that black metal can remain loyal to its scriptures while applying a fresher coat of ink to their dictation. Apart from the fluid blasting passages redolent of incendiary Scandinavian might, there was no one point throughout this album where I could predict to you exactly what was going to happen elsewhere. All seven tracks possess an individuality which not only complements, but strengthens their neighbors, even when the styles of music being contrasted against the black metal core are so wildly different. For instance, "Cosmic Significance" begins with a sort of alluring, primal ambiance to it which evokes 60s-70s New Age space synth, while "Drifting Through Moss and Ancient Stone" involves a moody, incidental folksiness with the clean guitars that feel out new pastures with seemingly every measure. But all is bound together with the eloquent savagery of the tremolo picked melodies, harmonies against which Ayloss sets an added layer of angelic resonance, organs, choirs, multi-faceted growls and howls that seem to assault the listener from a panorama of ancient and cosmic landscapes. If Giordano Bruno had channeled his heretical astral revelations into a symphony, it might sound a lot like this (sans distortion), and it's that larger than life air of discovery and fulfillment which precludes any chance of these incredibly lengthy tracks (10 to 16 minutes) from lapsing into tedium or dissatisfaction.

It's of course impressive that this is all one individual's imagination coming to light, but on equal footing are the guy's instrumental skills. Never cheesy or excessively indulgent...the classical acoustic guitars here have the grace and complexity you'd desire from a seasoned player, and the chord choices are evocative of those tenets of adventure and escape that was characteristic of those aforementioned 90s gems. Granted, a blast beat is still a blast beat and few of the riffs sound unusual for the form, but there's a patience to the writing which doesn't aim for cheap, quick money shot melodies, rather more swarthy cycles of guitar notes that merge into a bigger picture. Bass lines are less overt than the more atmospheric instruments, but they've always got a warm groove going or something else that helps anchor the airier embellishments on the strings or synthesizer. Drums are always maneuvering between a standard blasted precision and a proggier set of beats, with loads of fills to keep them interesting and give the songs just a fraction more depth and flavor, while the growls and rasped vocals maintain the spectral sensibility exhibited on past works: themselves more of an atmospheric exhibition of suffering and bewilderment than a harder driving syllabic framework. III is a yin and yang of the elusive and tangible, ethereal and grounded, with replaybility in spades, and somehow I knew it would be, because sometimes a guy just 'gets it'. And you should, too. Get this.