Review Summary: Trems and the Art of Cosmic Insignificance
Entering the metal scene as a new artist must be an intimidating prospect, like merging onto a twelve lane highway laden with throngs of similarly unkempt fantasy/sci-fi/misanthropy enthusiasts all driving to the same theme park. These enthusiasts must often forget that Tolkien's abilities as a linguist fueled his world-building, that Frank Herbert's dogged ecological research informed his ground-breaking work, that Varg Vikernes actually murdered someone
in the throes of his artistic rebellion. Without such pedigree, aspiring artists in the field often focus on concept over content, constructing albums set in an alternate earth/the future/another planet/inside Tolkien's brain
about emancipation/constipation/authoritarianism that lasts for an hour/ninety-fucking-minutes/one-hundred-and-twenty-fucking-minutes, further clogging up an unending parade of subgenres most adequately defined by their more succinct progenitors.
Spectral Lore's previous album, III
, is a ninety-fucking-minutes concept album about transcending self-absorbed desires and becoming a living expression of the universe, and although it wears every possible strain of black metal influence on its sleeve, Nihilus Ayloss (yeah) proves that his foundational skill as a composer/shredder warrants the premise with ethereal vigour, even if you're the type that believes that relentless progressive tendencies have morphed metal from pure, primal catharsis into a room full of music majors swapping wristies. Two more brief statements about III
before we kick on:
a) more people need to start spouting wildly unfounded claims such as “this is a modern classic of the genre” so that it accrues the listeners and acclaim that it deserves
b) sweet mother of dicks, III
was Spectral Lore's last solo full-length release
Well, the truth is that Ετερόφωτος
will leave some fans of III
cold. The lack of Roman numerals in the title is significant; that series of albums is a spawn of a different M.O. Ετερόφωτος
is a continuation of what we've heard on Sentinel
, and even some of the more direct aspects of the Mare Cognitum crossovers. Spectral Lore's latest album operates in a realm less ethereal and more insane, defining itself through labyrinthine riffing, scorching lead runs, busy bass work, and menacing, roaring vocals that almost reflect the lyrics provided. The discerning listener might appraise the end result as fucking ferocious
While black metal albums have a habit of opening with their most savage blasts of hatred, the inaugural salvo on 'Ατραπός' could blow the beard off of even the most stubborn of necks. This track progs its way toward a finale that provides cathartic harmonic payoff, but there is some steam lost in the middle through an inexplicable fadeout/fadein of a solo guitar part, eventually paired with a lead guitar that makes a couple of egregious mistakes. If this performance contains metaphoric connotations of the track's lyrics describing descending deities and systematic oppression, it's lost on me. Nevertheless, it's still a great track, and a perfect summation of most of what's to come.
While there is some typical genre fare on this project as far as lyrics go (“One must fall to attain true wisdom
”) there are also lyrics that harness that power of these songs and put them to good use. During the album's opus, 'The Sorcerer Beyond the Clouds', there is a pronounced section of harmonic instability as Ayloss “sing[s] a song of heresy
”, but then traditional harmony re-enters the fold, and we're given the most uncompromising stanza of the release:
Curse to you all men who seek for kings and sages!
You will raise them to sky to turn them into relics
To convince yourself there's someone
Who won't ever fail you
Your order will never be eternal
But only eternally Everchanging
Ι smite your crumbled thrones
And spit at your baseless pride
As the track hits its vinegar strokes, synths that my notes shamelessly described as “fuckin epic” enter the fray, ya boi just about runs outta frets on his bass, and a guitar is just pure shreddin' its knuts off. We receive an intro reprise with more guitars
to cap things off. Whew. I need a cigarette. If you only check one track here, make it this one.
contains precisely two surprises outside of its bulk of digressive black metal fare. 'Apocalypse' is the first of these, providing respite from the meticulously composed chaos by becoming chaos incarnate, guitars descending like a swarm of rabid bats, tremoloing us onto a path towards damnation. Strange rattling enters the fray, and the world's busiest snare roll builds toward an ever steeper decline, marked by even more fuckin gats
. Things break down to almost nothing, providing a brief respite, before hilariously fast programmed drums kick down the door, and suddenly it's musical madness all round, the creaking of heavy machinery, the fall of industrialisation, the liberation of our Terran brothers and sisters, the rapture in full fucking swing, Spectral Lore on a pale white stallion leading the charge.
Conversely, there's the part of the album that everybody's gonna whine about. The closing track, 'Terean', hits the other extreme. After an hour of blistering kvlt shit, a near-twenty-minute ambient track sees us out. It's hardly as annoying as that lull in the middle of Shaking The Habitual
(dw sputnik, I swear I love that album), but it wouldn't be an entirely unreasonable idea to have split up the busier portions of Ετερόφωτος
with this track, which is basically already split into two parts anyhow. Yet, I think this decision actually works to the album's benefit. Skip it if you want, no-one's judging, but I'm quite grateful for this epilogue following the violent turbulence of Ετερόφωτος
; it evokes that beautiful album art more than anything else here. The howling wind, the mournful choir, the spooky rhythmic shit all combine to make me scared that that scary God-looking fucker's gonna breach through the floor, crumbling my house to dust, and, holding me in its hands, invade my being with divine messages inferring my cosmic insignificance.
has some small caveats typical of a release of its ilk; I'll forever maintain that a fadeout is almost always a shit way to end a ten minute prog metal meltdown; there are sections of songs that aren't as effective as others, which can be draining across such a lengthy release; the album's dynamics could be a little more, uh, dynamic, especially as this is not a passive release — your attention is essential to getting anything out of this. This said, Ετερόφωτος
fucking hums when we're blastin' and riffin'. The main draw of this album, the persistently evasive guitarwork that chugs along at about 200n/m, somehow never succumbs to sounding like a scale exercise put to tape, but imbues the album with a sense of perpetual momentum and – at its best – wonder. If the idea of yet more guitars
in 2021 still holds appeal to you, look no further than Ετερόφωτος
- Nihilus Ayloss' most frenzied outpouring yet.