Ah let’s go back to dark medieval times when the common serfs were oppressed by the ruling elite and plague spread throughout the land. Errrr yes, well at least some things have changed. Seriously though, here we have “Medieval Black Metal against Empire and Aristocracy” and this album redresses the balance focusing on tales “of those downtrodden under the shiny heels of knights and lords.” It’s admirably presented by none other than Greek multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Ayloss who you will no doubt recognise from Spectral Lore and Tome Of The Unreplenished among others. Castles Conquered And Reclaimed is very much an album of two parts containing numbers of swaggering black metal totally reflecting feudal times as well as dividing instrumental tracks rooted in medieval folklore, some of which may well be recognisable to listeners. We are also told that guest musicians from LÜÜP, ART OF SIMPLICITY, NEDA and SPIDER OF PNYX are involved in the odyssey. Time to knock on the castle gates, I think we best have a battering ram handy.
The title track literally blows them right open with massive blasts and swirling synth work. It sounds like a full pitched battle is going on and takes a while to get accommodated to the deluge of sound. Angry vocals are there amidst the melee and to say this is turbulent would be an understatement. The barbarians penetrate the defences and suddenly a very medieval jauntiness pervades the hellish diatribe as we sweep into the great court and reclaim the castle from scenes of jesters a juggling and the elite gorging themselves on suckling pig and other delicacies. This has the spirit of a film such as Paul Verhoeven’s Flesh and Blood as well as the that of the rebellion shown by bands from the Quebec scene such as Forteresse. We are very much in England though as far as the next parts are concerned. The Cutty Wren is the first short folk number and I know it well partly through an obsession from the unlikely source of Chumbawamba and their excellent English Rebel Songs 1381-1984 album. I do miss the vocals and the important lyrics but the melody is instantly and sublimely recognisable. Staying in theme ‘The Murder of Wat Tyler’ is another tale of nefarious discontent and the leader of the Peasant revolt lives on through history in a jaunty number full of vitriol and bravado. The 13-minute track is clearer in definition and Ayloss sets about things pumping out the ribald melody with rallying cries providing a two-fingered salute to the governing oppressors. Lovers of bands such as the fascinating Obsiquiae and rebel rousers Dawn Ray’d will definitely find common ground and be quick to join in on this battlefield spurred by flagons of ale it twists and turns providing a merry jig but it is a story we know well ended in tragedy at the hands of Richard II loyalists. Downtrodden perhaps but after the pastoral flautist rendition of ‘Contre Dolour’ we are back to ‘Storm the Walls of Mystras’ with shrieking anger, humungous blasts and a perfect intertwining guitar weave pitching us right back to the turbulent Middle Ages. The backing choral accompaniments here will definitely rouse from any apathy.
By this time, you may well be wondering if anything of a Hellenic nature is cited as we seem very much in a different place. Fear not, the adventures of Greek revolutionary Tsakitzis are next for a brief folky rendition before we address ‘The Zealots of Thessaloniki’ and a more traditional Mediterranean vibe pervades the clamouring hurly-burly blackness. This is like being at a bizarre bazaar completely thronged and quite mad as the zealots raid the aristocracy and redistribute their wealth something the effectively achieved apparently via self-governance for 8 years. As for Ayloss, we get some fantastic guitar work that really bridges from the distant past to the present. I didn’t want this one to end so involving is both the subject matter and the music but indeed it must as we lead to the finale via the medieval Ai vist lo lop (also covered by In Extremo fact fiends) and the closing statement ‘Wrath And Glory’
I had a feeling this album was going to hit the mark and it truly has and should have anyone who hears it totally in the spirit and rejoicing in its rebellious nature. I hope we get some more of this nature from Ayloss in the future, there’s plenty more castles to reclaim in this never-ending historical context which sadly is still all too true today.
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)