Mystras
Castles Conquered And Reclaimed


3.7
great

Review

by Voivod STAFF
March 21st, 2021 | 14 replies


Release Date: 07/17/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Against empire and aristocracy.

Ever since the 1821 insurrection against the Ottoman empire that led to the birth of a free Hellenic state, an ongoing debate has been simmering within the walls, regarding the origins of a nation that’s celebrating its 200th year of independence this year. On one side, there is the clergy and renowned academic Byzantinologists such as Eleni Glykantzi Arveleur, who posit (and have established to a significant degree) that Hellenism straddles between orthodox Christianity and the Byzantine empire (the latter in terms of its political structure, ubiquity of the Hellenic language therein and, well, orthodox Christianity). On the other side, there’s the conviction that the city states which comprised ancient Hellas and their combined/multifaceted legacy, is the nation’s definitive point of origin.

Both countering points have a common space, after all Byzantium was a Hellenized descendant of the Roman empire, which in turn, inherited a lot from ancient Hellas. Byzantium was fastidious in maintaining its stern political/religious system, and securing the mosaic of nations therein, under the imperial yoke (while suppressing their ethnic and religious traits, consciously or unconsciously). Ancient Hellenes had kings, tyrants, and cut-throat politics as well, but eventually some of them invented democracy; city states were on almost constant (civil) war with one another (save for the Olympics), but when the Persian empire invaded the region, they became one in the face of the massive enemy; ancient Hellenes adopted slavery, but at some point, Solon the Athenian passed a decree that protected his fellow citizens from being deprived of their freedom, due to debt. List can go on.

Ancient Hellas decayed at some point in time, but along with peering civilizations, it left a legacy for the world to build upon, a legacy that according to Hellene philosopher Cornelius Castoriades, was reenacted and enriched only during the French Enlightenment, which in turn, matured the quest for liberation from the Ottoman empire, both within Hellas and abroad. So, when foreign “allies” sided with Athens as capital of the free state, there were probable and symbolic reasons to do so, besides practical ones (Thessaloniki, second only to Constantinople during the Byzantine years, would take almost another century to be liberated and annexed). Unsurprisingly, Arveleur dismisses Athens as capital, as apart from being a politically insignificant town within her historical focus, a considerable number of Albanians resided therein at the time, and therefore mixed with the natives. And yet, Ayloss sings in “Storming the Walls of Mystras”:

I, pagan son of the forest,
Join my Albanian brothers and sisters
With whom we share no language
But the shackles that we must break

Castles Conquered and Reclaimed touches upon notable social insurrections during the Byzantine era, but it does not restrict itself within the said time frame. What is brought to the fore is the narratives from the perspective of the folk at the lower echelons of society and its struggle against the indiscretions of empires and aristocracy, as Ayloss quotes in the album’s liner notes. Consequently, Mystras’ debut album distances itself from what is the norm in the artwork and lyrics at traditional metal, namely the praise of knights, overlords and emperors as proponents of honour and valour, whereas in fact, it was the other way around.

For all those who have come to appreciate Spectral Lore and their collaborations with other appreciable forces of the extreme metal underground, reading Ayloss’ name in the album credits will automatically increase expectations, and rightfully so. What’s prevalent in Castles Conquered and Reclaimed is its lo-fi sound work. Now, the term “lo-fi” will make many to hit the nail on the head about what’s really heard on the album, rest assured though; Ayloss has done a great job. Almost everything is perfectly audible (even the bass), but in order to hear “almost everything”, each prospective pair of ears should gradually acclimate itself to the sound. The only way to do it, is by listening to the album time and again and with good headphones or speakers. The fuzzy production also works in experiencing both the music and the concept “from a distance” and with “some ambiguity”, just like historians examine centuries old written documentation and archaeological findings, in order to decide/speculate what is history and what is merely hearsay.

Does the music worth the prompted while? The question is rhetorical, although to put everything in perspective, the wheel is not reinvented musically. Ayloss handles all metal instrumentation (plus keyboards) and unleashes an offensive, that reenacts the impetus with which, not only castles and empires, but also freedom and livelihoods of common folk, were reclaimed and conquered. Multiple layers of harsh and choral vocals, along with snippets of spoken word have been crammed within the instrumentals; the effect of the former corresponds to the roar of opposing combatants in battles, while the latter brings in mind the prose of ancient poets as they narrate the battles they’ve seen firsthand or heard from previous generations by word of mouth. Atop the black metal blast beating, there’s frantic/atmospheric soloing to be heard, which augments the tension and the album’s epic character, along with the masterful manipulation of the song dynamics, for example in “Storming the Walls of Mystras”. What’s more, folk/medieval melodies, either add a melodic note (“The Zealots of Thessaloniki”) or exist as self-consistent intermissions. Having been trained to play medieval/folk music from an early age, Ayloss and a handful of invited guests have materialized those short instrumental passages, whose origin is either European or oriental, whereas their names (“O Tsakitzis”) point to stories and legends that adhere to the album’s concept.

The album artwork depicts a hypothetical part of the walled city of Mystras during its heyday, built on one of the summits of Taygetos mountain range; the term hypothetical is used, as it is based on partial sketches that date back to medieval times. One detail that’s there, and is 100% accurate is the extended network of stone stairs that lead to and traverse the city ruins; its full traversal requires patience and stamina, the same requisites that medieval folk used to claim their rights against their rulers. According to Ayloss, the first Mystras album has anything but exhausted its concept; he has revealed that a trilogy of albums (plus split work) could possibly do the job, hence whatever anticipation there is about future Mystras material, involves not only the level of differentiation regarding the music, but also the stories to be told under a different, more pragmatic light. If Castles Conquered and Reclaimed depicts anything, is the necessity to rival those who shape storytelling to their own agenda. To that end, it’s no wonder that French writer and researcher Christian Salmon concludes his 2007 treaty Storytelling: The Machine that Fabricates Stories and Manipulates the Spirits, with the words of Michel Paul Foucault, that “We must listen to the roar of battle that’s raging near us”.




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user ratings (22)
3.6
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Voivod
Staff Reviewer
March 21st 2021


9095 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Constructive criticism is most welcome.

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bloc
March 21st 2021


65208 Comments


Album art is sick. Reminds me of those times in school where all I had was a piece of paper and a blue pen and I'd just sketch some random shit

Digging: Chaka Khan - What 'Cha Gonna Do for Me

Gameofmetal
Emeritus
March 21st 2021


10936 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great album, great review though a bit daring to work in so much warm-up talk on hellenic history/politics before even mentioning the record lol.



Mystras and Uprising are a couple of bands I appreciate because they manage to convey some pretty non-traditional themes and progressive ideas into records that are fairly recognizable and accessible for the trve kvlt crowd, feels like a good strategy for reaching an audience that normally leans reactionary.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
March 21st 2021


9095 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

though a bit daring to work in so much warm-up talk on hellenic history/politics



I hear you, but I think the album's direct/indirect context justifies the length, especially since it's of comparable magnitude to the album description.





Edit:

The band’s Facebook page contains a wealth of information that adds up to what’s written in the first three paragraphs.

manosg
Staff Reviewer
March 21st 2021


12212 Comments


Fantastic read, Voi.

I wanted to check this one when it came out, but somehow I forgot. Thanks for the review.

Azog
March 21st 2021


441 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Yeah, I remember this one. The thin production is a bloody shame, as the songs are actually very good.

PortalofPerfection
March 21st 2021


2410 Comments


Hey, a review for this!

Nice work. Exactly the right score for this too imo.

Digging: Dvne - Etemen nka

rage11111ro
March 21st 2021


350 Comments


Did you say Spectral Lore? You got me very interested.

The historical piece of this review is also highly appreciated, thank you!!

CaliggyJack
March 22nd 2021


5976 Comments


As a historian, the naming of the "Byzantine Empire" always bothered me.

Factually, it was still the Roman Empire, even with the fall of the West, there wasn't much reason to rename the Eastern Roman Empire, because nothing inherently changed. Not to mention that the people of the ERE still considered themselves Romans even after the fall of the West. It wasn't even called the Byzantine Empire until way after it's dissolution. Of course, the capital of the ERE used to be called Byzantium, but by the time the West fell, it had already been renamed Constantinople, so it would have been far more applicable to name it the Constantine Empire if a name change HAD to be made.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
March 22nd 2021


9095 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

@CaliggyJack

Agreed, the name Byzantium emerged after the fall of the ERE, but there were enough reasons for the name separation, i.e. the partial Hellenization of the West and the migration of part of Rome to the East, because by that time the city was susceptible to invasions and raids from the North.

In the review I mention a Hellene Byzantinologist named Eleni Glykantzi Arveleur, I think you will find her work interesting, even if your focus as a historian is not fixed at Byzantium.



The thin production is a bloody shame

That's what I thought too at first, but it grew on me, the way I describe it in the review.





@rage11111ro

@manosg

Thanks guys

TheNotrap
Staff Reviewer
March 22nd 2021


15912 Comments


Pleasant reading, I enjoyed the historical context. The production probably won't be my cup of tea, but I'll take a peek anyway.

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CaliggyJack
March 22nd 2021


5976 Comments


@Voivod Eleni makes a fine point, in the end I am merely nitpicking something that really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of studying the ERE.

My expertise lies in Biblical history, American Civil War history, and Roman history. While others may disagree, it will always be the Roman Empire to me, even without Rome itself. Others can call it the Byzantine Empire if they want, it doesn't make that much a difference.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
March 22nd 2021


9095 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

@TheNotrap

The production is not as lo-fi as it sounds at first, I think you will like this.



@CaliggyJack

About Arveleur's point, she conveniently ignores the fact that Hellenism temporally precedes both Christianity and the Byzantium (== ERE). Fortunately, some of her colleagues speak of the obvious, that Byzantium was Hellenophone, not Hellenic.

About the orthodox church, to put some perspective about where it stands on the matter, yesterday's Sunday (3/21) is called orthodox Sunday in Hellas, and in churches anathemas (curses) are chanted each year. Some of which refer to the heathenism and "dangerous" ideas of ancient Hellas and Hellenic philosophy respectively, so there's that.

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 24th 2021


24224 Comments


Oh shit Voivod, just realized you have the word Empire on your summary too and now the Dvne rev on top of this one reads funny haha

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