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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.