Spectral Lore – Ετερόφωτος Review

It’s no secret that I was a huge admirer of the 2020 Spectral Lore/Mare Cognitum split, Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine. Like an elaborate dance, the ethereal material from Spectral Lore waltzed perfectly with the more grounded, riff-driven focus of Mare Cognitum. I was fascinated to see how each band would follow this with their respective solo albums. Mare Cognitum clearly incorporated the introspective, mournful influence of Spectral Lore to great effect on Solar Paroxysm. The question was how Spectral Lore mastermind, the Greek Ayloss, would approach his latest collection, Ετερόφωτος. To my ears, the Mare Cognitum tracks were the slightly stronger on Wanderers. Would this be the same for their individual efforts?

Although it is technically the follow-up to 2014’s III, the band claims that Ετερόφωτος is actually the spiritual successor to 2012’s Sentinel. Spectral Lore has always operated on the outskirts of black metal, jettisoning its troubled history while embracing its transcendental aesthetic. Both the gorgeous album cover, and the title (which has no direct translation, but apparently approximates to “The one whose light comes from others”) are clues that this is a deeply personal, yet decidedly abstract work. If that sounds paradoxical, you’re not alone: Ayloss himself seems to spend most of the album trying to reconcile a sound that is intrinsically icy with emotions and ideas that are decidedly warmer. The result is an album that reflects its tensions: chaotic yet deeply thoughtful, intelligent yet detached, transcendent yet distant. In other words, there’s heaps going on here, and untangling it will either be a satisfying challenge, or a boring frustration, depending on your mood and commitment.

 

The composition of the songs is indicative of Spectral Lore’s approach. Much like Ad Nauseam from earlier this year, there are almost no distinct verses or choruses, and even individual movements are hard to pin down. Generally, there will be an underlying riff upon which a tremolo guitar will trill up and down in a haphazard, almost jazz-like manner. Time signatures are discarded like lint, keys shift like a weather-vane in a hurricane, riffs caper in suddenly from left-field, and then exit again just as quickly. It’s bewildering, but when it all comes together, it’s utterly intoxicating. Ayloss’s ability to bring everything back from the brink with a killer riff is what makes tracks like the massive opener “Ατραπός” so compelling. Furthermore, the directions the songs take are completely unpredictable, making cuts like “Ετερόφωτος” feel like dazzling, satisfying journeys in their own right. This complexity is co-mingled with a sense of spiritual yearning that permeates the entire album. Spectral Lore is so damn talented, and these songs highlight why I woke up early to snag this from the promo pit.

The downside is that sometimes the aforementioned tension that the album straddles gets the better of it. These are atypical songs and they can be incredibly hard to pin down, requiring multiple, dedicated listens before they begin to make any sense. The problem is that the rapidly-changing nature of the music, with few hooks to hold the attention, means that some listeners simply won’t want to. Those who do will discover that the 70 minutes of music here are abstract, complicated and demanding. But most frustratingly, some of them are not worth the effort to decipher. “Apocalypse,” for example, is dissonant drone than fails to develop; a 2 minute circuit breaker that instead stretches to 8 and therefore becomes tiresome. This isn’t the only instance. Ετερόφωτος ends with “Terean,” which is NINETEEN minutes of… nothing, really. Extremely gentle drone that just never stops. It’s a baffling conclusion and I’m still trying to get my head around it.

Ετερόφωτος is, almost by design, a conflicting and difficult album to evaluate. When the chaos and complexity come together, it’s some of the best material you’ll hear all year: a captivating and fascinating personal journey to the very boundaries of black metal. It’s deeply intelligent and extremely rewarding for those willing to put in the effort of dissecting it. Unfortunately, the juice is not always worth the squeeze, and there are times when Spectral Lore simply cannot reconcile its lofty aims with the chaos of its chosen aesthetic. The result is a flawed, yet thoroughly original, album that falls agonizingly short of the transcendence it is aiming for. There won’t be a near-miss all year, however, more worthy of your time.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Websites: spectrallore.bandcamp.com  |  facebook.com/spectral.lorebm
Releases Worldwide: April 23rd, 2021

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