25954. Anger, frustration, incensed contempt, rage. That is not an unfamiliar concept in the realm of Black Metal related music. But it is not often aimed at a specific cause. Spectral Lore, or the person behind, Ayloss, releases an incredible, emotive, and furious album to raise more awareness of what happens in the Mediterranean Sea where boat refugees are risking a trip across the most dangerous sea route to reach Europe, and thousands have perished or are missing.
Spectral Lore has acquired an almost legendary status over the years since its inception in 2005 through its many high-quality releases. The band has become a reference point to how Black Metal music has developed through the 2000s with his take on Progressive Black Metal and Atmospheric Black Metal. Especially through his albums I, II, and not at least III. While we eagerly await IV, Ayloss releases what he calls an EP - four tracks lasting 44 minutes. Two tracks of tight, sometimes disturbing, Black Metal and two tracks, of emotive Ambient Darkwave.
It is a political album. It is an album that shows it is not just folk musicians who can write “protest songs”. This album is raging against European, and especially Greek, politicians and their refugee policies that kill thousands of desperate women, children and men running from desperate conditions in their homeland to - as they were told - hope and a good life in Europe. To quote Ayloss himself from the press release: ”It is meant to be both a musical album and a statement of protest against the anti-immigrant policies of the European Union.” Proceeds from the digital album sales and part of the physical edition (out via I, Voidhanger Records) will be donated to those who organize help and rescue missions for distressed refugees.
But is the music any good? Yes. It is a 44 minutes raging and emotional journey describing eleven days at sea - day and night. With hopes, fears, longing, despair, and the government´s fist they get smashed in their face if they reach their destination. There are sampled soft, caring voices, but also sampled screaming voices in the turbulent music. And there are vast endless synth-scapes that reflect hope, loneliness and sadness. The painting on the cover by Christina Chrysanthopoulou really says it all. It has captured all the nuances of this magnificent musical release.
The album opens with ”Moloch”. The track gives you many connotations as two distorted guitar rises in the opening. One repeating a down-tuned solo and the other adding some arpeggios. The guitars surround blast drums and background synths. Growling vocals rise up from the maelstrom of sound: “Wailing steel / Oppressing /Righteous Sea /Raging /Clash into each other / A battle of will.” Throughout the song, it tells the story of how the protagonist ”must hold to this scrap of rusted metal and not let go / For 11 Days.”. While the fast music evokes the image of sailing over high seas, the synths are dripping like beating hearts and a synth in choir mode spreads hope over the moving music and blasting drums.
The musical scope with its texture and layers is quite vast and it is impressive how he manages to compress the emotive drive into eleven minutes. Deep in the arpeggios we also get an example of the impressive diverse guitarist that Alyoss is. There are repetitive fast solos gliding in and out - sometimes in a tremolo mode. The guitar work on this, mixed with the immersive synths, truly stems from the second wave of Black Metal and develops it further. It is so well done, and a very appropriate way to conjure both - the sense of hope and despair these refugees endure on an eleven days journey in high undulating seas AND your own despair of lost lives.
”Moloch” crumbles into the next track, the Dark Ambient ”Fortitude Sunrise” which opens with foreboding sound effects, foggy textures, and a distorted fog horn in the distance. Fast-paced droplets of synths are like hearts beating in suspense while they are immersed in foreboding sonic textures. The layers of synths shift their pace throughout the track, adding a sense of confusion. The soundscape is vast and seems to come from all directions, water dripping, and the sound of a machine in the mix. Submerged in relaxing sound effects, the rhythmic pace becomes faster, and desperate sampled voices appear accompanied by fast synth droplets. Faster and faster a foreboding thunder and a desperate sampled voice crash into the monolithic furious fast riffs, fast solo, blasts beats and angry low growls of the next track ”Adro Onzi”.
The track´s title means “Bad God” in the tribal territories of Lugbara in Africa. It might be the god that growls ”I am standing on a rope / Atop a perched peak / Between the living and the dead / I can see the bodies of my people / A thousand leagues into the depths.”. The music certainly underlines the lyrics as it races forward with subtle changes in the texture with layers of synth in between. At the four-minute mark, it tunes down and gets heavier and even more ominous and foreshadowing as the growls are immersed by dissonant-sounding guitars. There are two vocals answering each other, fighting for attention. The musical expression becomes more dissonant, even if a solo guitar tries to lighten it up. This is a dark track; desperate darkness staring into hopelessness. A synth in choir mode rises once more, lost souls, lamenting in the darkness. The pace slows down to a swirling repetitive maelstrom of guitars and an angry dark growl peaks upwards with the drums blasting the music forward, descending into the next Dark Ambient track, ”Tremor-Kalunga Line”
The track opens with deep sound effects, purveying a sense of being caught amid crashing waves with dark synths spreading a gloomy blanket above the waves. A glimmer of a melancholic melody appears from the horizon flowing stronger. A sampled caring female voice says, “I dreamed” - and an equally caring voice answering “What did you dream?” There is no answer as the reflective music drifts through slow, drawn-out waves. An indistinct wondering male voice sampled appears in the layers. After the extremely turbulent music from the three tracks before, this is a sad, reflective track. It surges and surges and is embraced by dark tones towards a crescendo of sounds embracing some sampled confused voices before it comes to an urgent stop and the last sound we hear is one wave breaking against a shore.
I started this review with a number. I will end with a higher number 26148. The difference between those two numbers is the number of boat refugees who have died in the Mediterranean Sea from mid-February until I submitted this review for publication in mid-March. The total number the human beings missing since 2014 according to https://missingmigrants.iom.int.