Spectral Lore – III

Spectral_LoreWhat terms should one use to describe an album of dark, heavy music that leaves not only the confines of terra and reality, but also the prototypical confines of metal subject matter behind (hatred, violence, nihilism, et al) for a sonic undertaking that is as much inward searching as it is upward reaching? For the complicated yet cohesive III from Greek progressive black metal project Spectral Lore, a brief description will not suffice, nor be just. So let’s take a deep dive into Ayloss’ latest, and – with liberal usage of III‘s lyrics, italicized in stanzas below – glean a full understanding and appreciation through careful study of the album’s sounds and letters.

We start by looking at III‘s physicality: a six panel, 2 CD digipak, delivered with a 20-page booklet adorned with paintings by Symbolist Benjamin Vierling (Weapon, Aosoth) that evoke birth, death, the natural world, and universal contemplation. Before you are anywhere near pressing play, prescience that you have a collection of music and words striving to differentiate itself greets you with open hand. To quote Ayloss himself, this album “marks a passage from the internal to the external, from the individual to cosmic destiny.”

That’s not to say that when the music begins, you will wonder what the foundation of III is, for without cliched creepy introduction or a mellow easing in with calming recordings, ‘Omphalos’ explodes out of the vacuum of sonic space with blast beats, tremolo guitars, and lower-range growls. Varied this album may be, but Spectral Lore remains a black metal band, and it is through that lens its look through man’s soul and into the stars will focus. Black metal’s sounds of chaos are the destructive sounds of the album’s central character, and his impending separation from Earth and Sun:
“The navel of Motherly love must be cut
To escape the inevitable demise
From the blazing hands of the Father.”

Second track ‘The Veiled Garden’ paces slowly at its onset with highly melodic, whole-note chords and counter-melodies that coalesce into a doom dirge, then slow to an ambient crawl mid-song, with bell, cello, oboe; companions all for the journey into the subconscious. These instruments unveil the path of III’s protagonist, and his enlightenment:
“In my Dreamland I am Strong and Unbending.
Soaring the Skies, defeating Tyrants, facing the Sun.”
From that moment, the listener and the hero embrace vision and calamity together, careening headlong from doom and ambiance into blazing, ultra-fast black metal ferocity toward fire and rebirth. Melody twists into dissonance, music becomes harsh noise:
“With every last ounce of strength, I throw myself towards the scorching heat.”

When the distortion fades, the protagonist sleeps to somber acoustic guitar, echoing along with night sound accompaniment. The calm is short-lived, however; on awakening, he must endure the ‘The Cold March Toward Eternal Brightness’, its wintry, droning black metal atmosphere – the most familiar construct amongst the seven tracks of the album – setting the stage for III’s primary, existential theme:
“It is he, the tragic hero, who does not simply want to Grow,
But to Change.
What is, that makes Man?
What is, that makes the Over-man?”
While considering the answer, the final third of this track closes in a mid-paced, though still Summoning-like fashion, with medieval synth compositions paralleling the hero’s desire to look to the past for clarity:
“I want us to hold swords again
As in the years of the old tales.
But this time, to fight for Dignity and Solidarity.”

With no solution readily available, the hero finds himself ‘Drifting Through Moss and Ancient Stone’. On this instrumental piece – one of my favorite moments on the album, and an intermission of sorts – the listener can meditate upon all he or she has heard thus far, and enjoy Ayloss’ mastery of guitar at all levels. Herein, the fusion-style acoustic structures traverse between classical, celtic, blues, even old country, all with subtle, yet well-played piano and wind instruments book-ending the performances. Despite the wide berth of approaches on display, the song stays the thematic course III has clearly lain – define, strive for, and express personal potential, in whatever way holds purpose for you.

This time of reflection prepares us for the next phase of our journey, taking us up the ‘The Spiral Fountain’, where Negura Bunget-like point/counterpoint riffage, panned left and right, sometimes palm-muted, other times not, forms a towering means of communication for the protagonist. As the riffs and keyboards return to melodic surrender in a thundercloud of thick major chords with minor underpinnings, scaffolded together by deft bass playing, our hero’s desire to be saved “from wither, madness, and solitude” is answered by the universe thusly:
“No eternity was ever promised to you, Child.
To travel beyond the Stars, into the marvels of macrocosm,
You must first conquer the smallest, inner void.”

Hearing this, the hero escapes the plateau, and in so doing becomes ‘A Rider Through The Lands Of An Infinite Dreamscape’, taking in all this and ever was below, driven along by black metal that ebbs and flows with fog-ridden passages to the front and the back of the mix, challenging the listener to guess as to where he (and the song) will touch down. Still questioning, yet accepting now, the hero posits a final theory, as black and classic metal riffs collide in a great conflagration:
“That every human must absolutely surpass the limits of one’s existence,
Towards greater and greater understanding, complexity, continuity, fulfillment.
In a great mission to defeat Gravity, to liberate, once and forever,
All Existence from the cycle of birth and death.”

The album closes with relative quiet; another instrumental, entitled ‘Cosmic Significance’. While the III‘s last minutes include expertly phrased leadwork, it is ambient, not metal, that is the rightful centerpiece of this epilogue. During it, the listener will invariably ponder on how all the words, music, and images just experienced relate to his or herself, and how this masterful quest – a determination of self in mankind’s apparent meaninglessness – applies to us all. -Jim

I, Voidhanger

~ by cliftonium on April 30, 2014.

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