Castles Conquered and Reclaimed — the new raw black metal album from Mystras, which is a project of Ayloss, the individual behind Spectral Lore — packs a wellspring of electrifying ferocity.
Seriously: the entire record feels like it’s catapulting a never-ending stream of sounds at the listener that are simultaneously caustic and invigorating, as if the artist has dialed into a stream of freeing energy that runs through even the most torrential onslaughts.
That freeing energy makes quite a prominent appearance across the album. For instance, on the title track, which opens the album, speedy surges of guitar riffing with a war metal-like intensity leap out of the mix at the listener, as do the bloody hailstorm of consistently ferocious drumming and the lacerating vocals, which course through the mix like wind across a field of medieval battle. These elements reappear in different configurations throughout the record, from the gloriously persistent volleys of earth-rattling riffing of “Storm the Walls of Mystras” to the somewhat more chaotic-sounding, ferociously unhinged “The Zealots of Thessaloniki.” All of the melody, no matter the intensity, feels perfectly suited to be deeply emotionally gripping.
There’s a front-and-center low-fi production across basically the entirety of the record — although there are also some folk music-oriented tracks in between the more full-on black metal onslaughts, like the rendition of the historical English peasants’ protest song “The Cutty Wren,” which appears as track two. The low-fi production does not distract in the slightest from the emotions that are at the core of the record — this is an album that musically captures the process in which a struggle for freedom leaps forth from deep inside of an individual’s soul and a collective community consciousness. Unlike the emotional frigidity that low-fi waves of distortion might deliver elsewhere, Mystras seems to use the element to establish an atmosphere in which the air hangs heavy with a sense of looming vitriolic outburst.
The record has been billed as “Medieval Black Metal against Empire and Aristocracy.” Although other metal artists have taken up medieval themes and often dialed into the escapist element inherent in subject matter that’s — in some respects — quite a long way removed from modern listeners, that escapism feels entirely absent on Castles Conquered and Reclaimed. The album feels deathly serious and deeply emotionally compelling.
Many of the lyrics tell tales of historical revolts, including the Wat Tyler Rebellion in England in the late 1300s and the uprising of the Zealots of Thessalonica in the mid-1300s. The lyrics are frequently not wistful; instead, they are brutal. The track about Wat Tyler is called “The Murder of Wat Tyler,” because — as the lyrics explain — despite initially promising progress in negotiations with English rulers, Wat Tyler, who helped spearhead the rebellion, was executed. Ayloss observes at the conclusion of the track that “The brave peasants of England did not die for nothing/ For the Crown started to crack and crumble/ And their memory will live on.”
Although the entire record is defined by a sense of utterly relentless, desperate determination, the music on “The Murder of Wat Tyler” feels less triumphant and more grim, almost like a black metal funeral dirge. It’s basically impossible to listen to this record without feeling nearly instantly whisked into the world that the album has outlined, which spills out right into our own.
Listen to the new Mystras album below! It’s available via I, Voidhanger Records.