Sep 20, 2021

Spectral Lore - Sentinel

Release date: 2012
Genre: Ambient Black Metal
Origin: Greece
Label: Stellar Auditorium Productions
Listen: Bandcamp

And here is where Spectral Lore followed through. As if Ayloss was fully aware of the weaknesses of his previous works, a five year window is taken to fully fix and re-engineer the band’s sound into a new form that exposed the music for what it can truly be: perplexing, potent black metal with interesting lyrics and more distinct, spacey ambient oriented synths. One can tell how much inspiration must have been employed for Sentinel, which at the time was completely discernible from Spectral Lore’s previous albums, yet more of what we know them to be about today. Similarities to Mare Cognitum start to arise at this time as well, let alone the collaborations that followed, in the music as well as the stellar cover art.

The first two songs are everything you need. Well, and the last one. As some have described it as the milder side of the album, “Atlus (A World Within a World” in its thirty minutes of length, has impressively deep layered synths, a truly monster space ambient track that defined the project at the time and still is well ingrained in its name. While the staggering riffs in “All Devouring Earth”, and especially “The Dejection of Arjuna”, are always at the spotlight of Sentinel, it’s not just that which has been perfected in the album. The touching compositions bloom as the well-thought and structured guitar lines unravel, demonstrating how unique Spectral Lore is. One can find hints of French black metal, US atmospheric black metal, even – and very very slightly – traditional greek melodies, beautiful soloing, fine keyboard work and the production that a record as Sentinel would deserve.

In its own world, the conceptual follower would only come nine years later with Ετερόφωτος, as Sentinel has a very interesting story to tell with its lyrics. Comfortably between intensity and ambiance, it has a lot of characteristic and memorable sequences where Spectral Lore properly channel inspiration into the creative process. It’s almost impossible not to be amazed with the blistering tempos and riffs of “The Coming of Age”, or the melodies of “My Ascension into the Celestial Spheres” and how it gives way to the great outro. Most of Spectral Lore’s audience was obtained through this release, and how the band would soon get into the collective of atmospheric, space-related black metal bands with a clean, melodic sound (Mare Cognitum, Midnight Odyssey etc…). 

“Quest for the Supramental” is the only track I can’t seem to enjoy that much from Sentinel. While it has a few interesting guitar lines, it feels like its pending for too long and never arrives to a conclusion, at least not in the bombastic manner that it happens in other tracks. I would really appreciate the guitar work here in a different kind of release but just for me, this song doesn’t click that much with the flow of the rest of the album. A small price to pay for so many other great moments, Spectral Lore’s discography from then on reached the ears of the mainstream metal scene, and well deserved.

I wrote a little piece for the band's next album, and their most popular, III, back when it was released. This leaves us a with a few split releases, some singles and of course the latest full length, to have an overview of Spectral Lore. When the time comes.

Tracklist:
1. All Devouring Earth
2. The Dejection of Arjuna
3. The Coming of Age
4. Quest for the Supramental
5. My Ascension into the Celestial Spheres
6. Atlus (A World Within a World)

Damage: 3.5/5 [Great]

Sep 15, 2021

Spectral Lore - II

Release date: 2007
Genre: Black Metal / Dark Ambient
Origin: Greece
Label: Self-released
Listen: Bandcamp

A couple of points right off the bat, is that both the original and reissue covers look more beautiful than their respective predecessors of Spectral Lore’s debut album, I. A year later, II came out and it introduced itself (at all times, intrinsically rather close to the previous work) with a ducky acoustic guitar introduction and then a humongous, 24 minute long piece “The Thorns That Guide My Warpath”. At a first rapid listen, I didn’t know what kind of noisy sounds were jamming in its beginning aggressive part, which then turned out to be the drums, and that says a lot about the production of II, a record that sees Spectral Lore significantly putting their stuff together compared to the debut, yet aches from its burying sound. A lot of little gems to discover exist around in II, from emotional clean guitar melodies to more spacey ambient (a foreseeing of the chaos), but above all, more concentrated and adequate black metal.

There’s numerous intriguing lines in that first track alone, which could go for a separate little review on its own as it has the length of an average EP today, and even more than that. Vivid and playful acoustic in between more attacking grimness for the first nine minutes, post / atmospheric black metal drenched in soft pads for a while before the distortion returns, where Ayloss goes towards more epic guitar patterns of Spectral Lore’s own melodic repertoire. Harsh and serene intersect and swap with beautiful choreography, which makes this a piece that fully demonstrates Spectral Lore’s hunger for fully musical compositions with much more complexity and payload than the average metal track. Again, a proper production could do this much more justice than what it actually got, but by now the star had already started taking form and shining. A pattern starts to emerge: heavy melodies, taped with rich dark / space ambiance. Repetitive lines that go almost towards depressive black metal. Keyboard parts that a new listener would label today as “dungeon synth” inspired.

That’s what I am thinking while listening to “Towards the Great Crossroad”, “Recoiling Beneath the Waves” and “To Wither in Silence and Dismay”. Ayloss throws all his arrows at once with these pieces, in an album that sounds more confident and ambitious than its older sibling, but out of the same elements. Spectral Lore were never a typical black metal band, and II contains many more different branches than its raw sound suggests. There is less noise experimentation in II, and more layering, clearer ambient, clear even from the dreamy outro “Where Nature Won’t Ever Yield to Man”. The shortest track “Leaving the Stars Behind”, only three minutes long, could very easily be absorbed in a longer composition as part of it, but probably it has a separate meaning. The production baffles me the more I listen to it though, as guitars / guitar-like sounds, and different instruments, sound different at different points in the album, or at different volumes. 

Honestly, II is also another record I don’t go back to easily. It still seemed to me that with its abundance of ideas, it is not as concise as the circumstances demand, and the wall of sound is just another barrier. Nevertheless, noticeable steps forward were taken in just one year, the album – apart from my personal liking – has a bunch of neat moments for you to enjoy, if you like Spectral Lore and not under the umbrella of their later clearer sound. For me, from Sentinel and on is where the real magic happens, and where new levels are unlocked and achieved dominantly from Ayloss. Before 2012, what’s left for me is the history and its turns to acknowledge.

Tracklist:
1. Introitus 
2. The Thorns That Guide My Warpath
3. Towards the Great Crossroad 
4. Leaving the Stars Far Behind 
5. The Drone's Journey, Recoiling Beneath the Waves
6. Through an Infinite Dreamscape
7. To Wither in Silence and Dismay
8. Where Nature Will Not Ever Yield to Man

Damage: 3/5 [Good]

Sep 13, 2021

Spectral Lore - I

 Release date: 2006
Genre: Black Metal / Dark Ambient
Origin: Greece
Label: Saturnine Society (MC)
Listen: Bandcamp

Spectral Lore’s debut full length is very much not like material that followed later, and as this act has made itself famous with its massive and unique black metal sound today, back in 2006 things had not settled in terms of music or direction. I, was originally released in cassette, going along with poor production and primitive sound which, while already showing its compositional adventurous character, did not step that far away from the norm. Ayloss used hefty amounts of dark ambient, which also experimented more than just creating endless dusty pads, for example in the tracks “The Drowning” and “The Descent”. Unconventional noise-like compositions were also practiced not only in the introductory piece “Layers of Conception” (what a way to open an album”, but also in “Sigma Receptor”, having a sound equal to all the as-noisy-as-possible raw black metal bands of the underground today.

Unfortunately, the tracks in I are simply underwhelming in terms of ideas. While Spectral Lore presents lengthy tunes, for which it would later become famous, they are the weakest in this album, as it can be heard from the relatively boring guitar parts and transitions of the 13 minute long “Echoes of a Long Dead and Forgotten Place”. A lot of different ideas come into the game, indicating a clearly restless composer (no need to praise Ayloss even more), but the pieces have not be placed smoothly together in this puzzle. I feels more about him playing around until things click, and things clicked a bit later in Spectral Lore’s discography. The outro “Exodus” sounds completely out of place compared to the rest of the record, and “The Cleansing Rain/Morningrise in the Eternal Fields” overuses its natural samples, before an average middle to end part. Sounds come and go too quickly and nothing remains.

As a band that has achieved stellar levels of greatness since then, Spectral Lore’s early material are definitely worth a listen and should be part of the fans’ collections. This debut however comes off quite disoriented, with a noisy sound that is not helpful and very sparse good moments, if any. I appreciate the creativity that underwent this release, yet at this stage it wasn’t fruitful. I have returned several times to I, but the album has never managed to keep my attention except for only a handful of moments where it’s just interesting to hear the noise. Other than that, some more attention was brought to the record when it was re-released in 2015 on vinyl, with a beautiful cover art (the one shown above).

Tracklist:

1. Layers of Conception
2. The Drowning
3. Echoes of a Long Dead and Forgotten Place
4. The Descent
5. Sigma Receptor
6. The Cleansing Rain / Morningrise in the Eternal Fields
7. Exodus

Damage: 2/5 [Below Average]

Sep 11, 2021

Runespell - Verses in Regicide


Release date: September 10th, 2021
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
Origin: Australia
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Listen: Bandcamp

On an already great trajectory, with three well-catered records before this, Runespell established themselves rather quickly in 2017 with their debut Unhallowed Blood Oath and just kept on going on the same pace. Having followed this project from the beginning, I found myself always enjoying their material, which was sometimes unfortunately buried under needlessly unclear production that didn't always serve the songs. One of the reasons I still go back to some of their older works is because the credibility of the music and the epic / atmospheric proportions it's able to reach.

Thankfully, this miscue was completely overcome with the new album Verses in Regicide, which seems to have taken its sound outcome rather seriously. It is finally possible to experience Runespell at its full magnitude, with an adequate production of clear enough instruments, space and a tremendous atmosphere that's offering higher levels of admiration that can be met by just a few black metal bands, who practice this kind of epicness in their music. Wondrous melodies are a pivotal part of Verses in Regicide, from melancholic to heavier and faster parts, behind echoing deep vocals and section changes in the tracks that are absolutely wonderful, as Runespell often take just the right amount of time to build the following lines in these compositions. The record also stands out textually and aesthetically, as one would expect judging from the quality found in track titles / artworks of their previous offerings.

A big leap forward has been achieved, which streams through the record's production but also from the songs themselves. Runespell don't stray from the path they have set, they just excel on it with every new release and Verses in Regicide is no different. It's a record that starts with a blast, the brilliant "Structures of Collapse", and is packed with memorable, emotional and powerful moments of epic proportions. I recognized several influences from the Greek black metal scene and especially the modern works of Macabre Omen, as common lines can be drawn between Verses in Regicide and the absolute masterpiece that is Gods of War, At War. The listeners aware of this release should already clear out their schedule and give this record its time, because at various moments of listening to it I was almost equally overwhelmed and satisfied.

There's two instrumental pieces in the record, "Into Dust" and the outro "Windswept Burial", and you should not skip them. The majestic sound is emphasized even more through the chords of the acoustic guitars and they work perfectly as the bridges between the rest of the album. Tracks "Vengeance Reign" and "Realm of Fire" feature top-notch and unique atmospheric black metal, with the latter including the few moments that Runespell increase the groove and the aggression. The longest track in Verses in Regicide, "Tides of Slidhr", clocks up to nine minutes, combines middle paced tempos with marvelous riffs and at times faster guitar lines just to demonstrate how naturally this flow is achieved from the band. It definitely grows more the more you listen to it.

Verses in Regicide could prove to be one of my favorite releases of the year and it comes from a band that had discreetly shown what it can do, but only now unleashes its full power. More attention on Runespell and this album will give it the justice it deserves, as a well-worked, well-thought and complete release that it is. With an improved sound and potent tracks, all that's needed for a monumental black metal creation is here and it's only waiting for the scene to discover it. I'm really glad I followed this band from the beginning just a few years ago and noticed this evolution first hand.

Track listing:
1. Structures of Collapse
2. Vengeance Reign
3. Realm of Fire
4. Into Dust
5. Tides of Slidhr 
6. Shadow's Dominion 
7. Windswept Burial

Damage: 4/5 [Excellent]

Sep 4, 2021

Fluisteraars - Gegrepen door de geest der zielsontluiking

 


Release date: August 27th, 2021
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
Origin: Netherlands
Label: Eisenwald
Listen: Bandcamp

This band's last album Bloem, not only had a big impact on me, but it also brought some more mainstream attention as a case of more accessible and also fairly personal style of black metal. It was one of the richest, more diverse albums Fluisteraars put out, with a wide variety of instruments that emphasized their emotive character, and for once made Dutch sound great. When looking at the news for a new record just a year later, I thought they keep on the habit to release two albums for two consecutive year, as it had happened in 2014 with their debut Dromers, and Luwte a year later.

From the aesthetics of Gegrepen door de geest der zielsontluiking (=gripped by the Spirit of Soul Blossoming..?), one would imagine that the band decides to take a rawer, more straightforward approach this time than the milder previous work. A title that can't be pronounced by a non-native, and a black and white simplistic cover, may hint an intention of possibly reaching a more underground audience, as they have also returned to a three song structure of about thirty five minutes, something that was exercised again seven years ago during the first steps of the band. So, Gegrepen... has three tracks, and the biggest chunk of the record is taken up by the last piece, a twenty minute long mammoth composition named "Verscheuring in de schemering". Subsequently, the album is indeed based on a pretty clearly dirtier sound, the production sounds distant but organic, almost as if it was not recorded at a studio at all. 

Despite the cover and production though, Fluisteraars don't really aim for a more aggressive record, since most of the music in Gegrepen... is business as usual for the band. The -by now- characteristic, natural structural ideas are dominant, with their compositional narrative having not changed at all to an extent that you almost feel you know these tracks, if you've heard of Fluisteraars before. Especially in the case of the last track, which for its first ten minutes, is almost the same as "Oeverloos" from their 2018 split with Turia, the riffs and how the different parts are connected are basically the same, which is probably the recipe the band follows if they wanna make a really long piece. Things get more abstract on the second half of "Verscheuring..." though, for  a few minutes before asserting a charged ending to the record, that was pretty awesome. At times, it feels like this band appeals to me more than the average band because a few of their repetitive riffs I have been humming in my head at random times, and then somehow they create it.

Apart from that, the two other tracks of Gegrepen... should be noted for their passionate vocals (that's how you combine screams and clean yelling properly). Musically, I wasn't rocked of my chair as a whole from this record as I get a sense that Fluisteraars can produce something like this any day now, and I'm not sure how much effort or pushing the boundaries was actually put here. If you want to listen to their music with not the most polished production ever as it was in Bloem, you can pick this album or the more daring listener would even go to their older material, or last year's compilation Relaas. Yet, for a full length I was left with a bitter taste of wanting more from this. The band emphatically states that "there was no keyboards used on this record", a messages that implies their motive to put together an unfiltered, authentic release, which also has its unexpected turns, especially in the more contemporary parts that conclude tracks "Het overvleugelen der meute" and "Brand woedt in mijn graf". 

In retrospect, one aspect Fluisteraars should be complemented for at least is their efforts to sound unique, and their production in Gegrepen... makes a case for this. It might alienate some listeners, but it's clear the band hasn't chosen this kind of, all in all pretty catered, sound just for the sake of it. With their new album, they haven't taken a step forward necessarily but I don't see that disappointing the fans, yet from such an impulsive band I would have appreciated a bit of out of the box thinking here and there, at least in the main bodies of the tracks. What they seriously need to work on though, is finding a new logo, because this mess looks terrible.

Damage: 3/5 [Good]

Aug 25, 2021

King Woman - Celestial Blues

Release: July 30th, 2021
Genre: Doom / Post-Metal / Shoegaze
Origin: California, US
Label: Relapse Records
Listen: Bandcamp

I have to admit I completely missed King Woman's debut album Created in the Image of Suffering four years ago, at least at the time it was released, since I got around to listen to it some time later, and the reason could have been how much I thought this name is close to King Dude, which made me almost already know what I will listen from this band. By listening to the debut, the case was well like that as one can point out musical similarities between the two, but King Woman surely is a separate entity that doesn't call for unnecessary overshadowing.

Introducing itself with a slightly unsettling front cover, Celestial Blues is not as innocent as the title would suggest but no fan of this project / style would be fooled like that about the content. With the new record, King Woman stretches more on spiritual religious aspects of the frontwoman's Kristina Esfandiari life, mulling over despair and mourning as a textually rather dark record that uses theistic figures and elements to describe much more personal experiences. Of course, the crawling, gloomy, slow-paced (for the most part) music goes along with the ongoing elegies, this time putting more emphasis to clearer doom metal passages, while the post-metal temperament always manages to stand out. At the same time, the absolute highlight in Celestial Blues and any King Woman work, is actually Kristina's thrilling voice.

The focus on more variety compared to the first album as well as the emphasis on some heavier guitar parts gives the band the boost it needed, especially in the first part of the record lie the best moments of Celestial Blues. The heavier, stoner / doom metal distorted guitar lines distantly bring Pallbearer to mind, while the common grounds with Chelsea Wolfe are quite strong throughout the release in its entirety. The self-title opening tracks efficiently demonstrates the above and starts Celestial Blues with a blast, which continues with the second track "Morning Star" (a reference to Satan), one of my favorites as a whole. However, the two most compelling tracks of the album for me were by far "Boghz" and "Golgotha", with intense heavier moments, slow paced, painful passages, and the latter featuring a stunning cello part by Jackie Perez Gratz (who you may know from Giant Squid or Grayceon).

For the second half of Celestial Blues, the album unfortunately doesn't maintain the same level of competence musically, as I found the compositions aching at various points. "Coil" and "Psychic Wound" are mere average songs (Imagine the same ones without such a unique voice), but more specifically the use of harsher vocals here didn't come out as that convincing to me. With the exception of "Entwined", which does have some worthy moments, and the sorrowful, emotive ending piece "Paradise Lost", Celestial Blues suffers from a few filler moments but thankfully not too many, and it's not what's left in the mind of the listener after it's done. The more potent works in the album stand out and contain possibly some of King Woman's best creations to date.

Recognizing a certain evolution in this project's music, this album is one I would return easier than Created in the Image of Suffering, however only for specific chunks of it. As much as I adored a few tracks, others left me almost indifferent but in total Celestial Blues is a work that deserves its appreciation. It's hurting, it's distressed, darkly poetic and probably fulfils the artist's vision as it was meant to be. If King Woman has evaded you so far, and you like the approach of other musicians like King Dude and Chelsea Wolfe, it's almost a crime not to listen to this as well.

Damage: 3/5 [Good]