Ετερόφωτος — the new full-length album from the Greek black metal project Spectral Lore — is mesmerizing.
Most of the record (excluding the blustery ambiance-packed closing track “Terean”) sticks to a quickly moving pace, and Ayloss (the project mastermind) utilizes formidable tones. The fiery guitars, drums, and other elements carry sharp metallic edges buoyed by formidable weight, like — to use the project’s generally esoteric thematic focus — wielding a sword that has been recovered from a bog and still carries the grime of past battles — or, to be a bit more blunt, rushing through a forest on horseback while swinging an anvil on a rope. The music is consistently driving, yet it also feels startlingly heavy and expansive.
Rhythmically, Ετερόφωτος shimmers with captivating arcane energy. The music is intricate, suggesting the reception of some otherworldly revelation while covered in the dusty grit of the album’s journey. Although there’s some entrancing dynamic drama, it’s not entirely fantastical in the sense of something that’s set distinctly away from the strain of the trek up to the peaks of triumph that appear across the record. Instead, the songs consistently sound like they’re quaking in states of tangible tension.
With a consistently thick mix and an almost constantly shifting pace making it difficult to find any stillness in the storm, the agonizing ache feels confrontationally present, like a sudden inward shock of realizing that defeat looms — but that’s not where Ετερόφωτος lingers. Although scorching, it’s oddly uplifting.
At times, the album’s profoundly forceful but often free-wheeling rhythms seem jarringly whimsical, like a musical reflection of a sudden rush of quickly developing resolve. It’s as though disparate pieces have suddenly metaphysically clicked into a familiar pattern, providing the grounding to develop a plan for tackling the treacherous terrain that the album lays out. As has been the case with past Spectral Lore music, this new record feels startlingly dreamlike thanks to its disorientingly intricate but focusedly energetic push, but the space in which the album throws its listeners seems somehow real. The explosive, craterous impact from the rattling, stormy album just sounds inescapable.
Among other textural turns on Ετερόφωτος, Ayloss provides formidably growled vocals, thereby adding earthy resonance to the experience.
The album starts on opening track “Ατραπός” at a comparatively high point, with dynamically upending yet directly searing riffing, suggesting the ambitious confidence that might accompany an initial step out into some unfamiliar land — although by the end of the record, the central perspective feels more like exhaustedly cowering under some crumbling rock face and trying to plan an escape strategy by the light of a flickering oil lamp. Meanwhile, columns of otherworldly fire suddenly materialize on the plains outside, reaching towards the sky and threatening to block any paths out (those riffs are just destructively intense).
Overall, this new Spectral Lore effort is musically quite impressive. The dynamic variety ranges from a slight let up in the pummeling melee after some five minutes on the record’s opening track, settling the record into a profound but resolute unease, to the more rhythmically straightforward and still pulverizing — and soaring — fourth track, called “The Sorcerer Above The Clouds.” The more brusque moments suggest grandiose rage, but it’s tempered by the music’s oppressive, muck-dragging weight.
“Apocalypse,” meanwhile, which is the album’s fifth track, features simmering, droning guitars, and the aforementioned closing track suggests ominous yet open-ended possibility. The record does not seem to provide a conclusive ending point for the metaphysically characterized yet decidedly real struggle for freedom that its lyrics reflect. There’s no sudden expanse of unencumbered musical elation — those hints of whimsy never evolve into a full-on party (although there are some striking guitar lines across the record). Ετερόφωτος doesn’t suddenly become a symphonic black metal album and reveal the often accompanying feelings of victory from that style.
Leaving the trek open-ended fits, because shaping a world in which life can thrive — that’s up to us. The galloping riffs that close the album feel communally oriented, pushing observers forward. The record’s title track, which appears next-to-last, contains lyrics that seem to sum up the direction it’s going.
As the title track from Ετερόφωτος ends, Ayloss says the following:
We’ll always have a choice
Down here in the material world
Between love, bravery and justice
And the unending doom of self-deceit
With eyes looking outside at last,
Ετερόφωτος by Spectral Lore is available now via I, Voidhanger Records.