I’m not sure if I’ve been paying more attention than normal over the past few months and burrowing into those dark corners to find new and interesting stuff, but 2014 is slowly but surely turning out to be one hell of a year. Helping things along is the rather adventurous and brilliantly named I,Voidhanger label and their latest crop of finely tuned monstrosities. February’s Howls of Ebb was a sure fire contender for ugliest release of the year and possible annual top ten hopeful. Now comes this piece of atmospheric black metal which is nothing short of breath-taking. Some might say the most breath-taking aspect of ‘III’ is the length that even includes one 11 and-a-half minute acoustic guitar meets piano track. But, in almost 90 minutes of music, that represents but a moment in time. Have no fear, there is some excellent black metal in here, a relentless sonic evolution and, in all the sweeping chaos, a mind-boggling attention to detail and dedicated musicianship. Yes, a work of atmospheric black metal clocking in at almost 90 minutes has disaster written all over it. One man band, you say? Let me fetch my hot water bottle and pyjamas in preparation for a worthy but lengthy snoozathon. Atmospheric black metal without rubbish bits in between the songs? Don’t be silly. However, rather than the kind of rhythmic, folky riffs, ambient sounds and falteringly experimental nonsense we so often end up with in these situations, Spectral Lore is a gripping, ever-evolving treat that is not only brave in its scope but singularly pulls it all off.
There a familiar influences all the way through this. The dissonance of Deathspell Omega, the adventure of Wolves In The Throne Room, the sheer exhilaration of the iciest black metal tremolo highs from Enslaved or more recent bands like Eis. Then there’s the Drudkh-style hooks and fleeting pastoral moments that sound like Empyrium with a nice warming shot of rum. But sewn into the seams of ‘III’ is a level of activity that is stunning given the length of the album. Anyone familiar with Spectral Lore previous works, I dare say, might be prepared for – and possibly slightly nervous to find out – what he might achieve on such an ambitious project as this. Nervous because there is vast potential to disappear up one’s own proverbial with such a vast blank canvas at one’s fingertips. But most definitely prepared for the eventuality that Ayloss had the potential to achieve something immense.
It’s very tempting to dissect this on a track by track basis. Most of them are between 10 and 15 minutes long and manage to conjure up some very distinct moods. You could easily take each individual track and get to know them one at a time, and I would highly recommend that as an avenue into this – like a serial cosmic black metal event experienced over several days. But I’ll confine myself to saying that the final half – 40 minutes or so – of the release is by far the most digestible and worth getting to if you’re finding the initial going a little hard. The moods over these tracks range from warm and relaxing to pure elation. Just when you’re on the verge of thinking he’s lost it, you’re gathered up into the next climax.
The first half – four tracks – is definitely more intense and hard going, at least at initially. It begins with a freezing blast, the glacial upper limit of the album. Thereafter things get a little more challenging through the second track (The Veiled Garden) – almost like you’re being tested before you’re introduced to the delights to come. My advice is: persevere. After your brain has been well and truly fucked sideways, it’s about to be massaged back to life again over the next hour with a combination of black metal meets death metal musicianship (Ayloss’s other band is death metal band Divine Element), and space rock. What is truly impressive is that each small moment is given life, each part of the album constantly evolves, first into horizon-reaching soundscapes and then into and lush black metal crescendos to the point where I couldn’t shake the feeling that fingers must have bled in the production of this piece of work.
What’s intriguing is that each time I listen to the tracks the shorter they seem to get – like getting sucked into some weird temporal warp where time speeds up the more you focus on every well-thought out note. And if you like the sound of all that and can make it to the last couple of tracks you’re in for a real treat. I’m sure some people will hear this and see only an indulgent one-man project or the constituent parts which, taken individually, you may have heard somewhere before. But that would be a shame. Because there are so many albums produced these days that don’t even reach the foothills of where Ayloss had gone with this. This is an impressively crafted piece of work that is as entertaining as it is inspiring.
(9/10 Reverend Darkstanley)