When reviewing Spectral Lore’s album, ‘sentinel’, one of the first things we noted was the remarkable artwork that adorned the album. Now, as any reader knows, great artwork does not always equal great music, but when an artist has taken the trouble to craft an entire package, from the lyric sheet to the disc itself, it is indicative of a certain level of care. This split EP, featuring Spectral Lore and Locust Leaves is, simply put, stunning. With a detailed sketch on the front cover recalling the faded grandeur of Ozymandias, similar, beautiful artwork adorning the rear of the intricate cardboard case and the disc, and lyrics written in both English and Greek, it is clear before the listener even has a moment to hear a note, that this is a labour of love by the musicians involved and the only possible way to enjoy such a disc is in its physical incarnation – internet pictures could never do the package full justice.
The music itself comprises two tracks, the total coming in at some twenty-seven minutes in length. Spectral Lore, the masters of ambient black metal, appear first with ‘Duty’, a track that opens with frost-bitten guitars tinged with a sense of deep melancholy for all their distorted fury. As with ‘Sentinel’, Spectral Lore’s genius is to take the familiar reference points of acknowledged scene masters such as Burzum and Emperor and imbue them with a startling sense of grace which renders the music both wondrous and haunting at the same time. Ayloss, Spectral Lore’s lone member, has also surpassed himself lyrically on this outing, the carefully crafted lines conjuring up images of a dim and distant past with a clarity matched only by the Romantic Poets and the English translation is, therefore, a gratefully received addition to the package, allowing the reader to fully enjoy everything that is on offer. However, it would be foolish to single out any one element for specific admiration, with Spectral Lore the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts, and ‘Duty’ is a musical journey that stimulates the imagination with an elegance that few, if any, acts can match, the remarkable depth of Ayloss’ vision drawing the listener away from the pale conundrums of everyday life and leaving them, blinded with tears, in a bygone age far removed from the destructive strip-mining of the soul practised today.
Locust Leaves, therefore, have much to do to follow such a track, but with the three-part epic ‘promise’ they remarkably manage to do exactly that. The music is at once rawer, and yet possessed of the baroque qualities Emperor bought into their later works. Rhythms are complex, recalling the progressive might of King Crimson, whilst the guitars sear and burn, providing a suitably hellish backdrop for the guttural vocals which choke and snarl out harsh sibilants through the sulphuric fumes. Lyrically Locust Leaves are not far removed from Spectral Lore, but where Ayloss yearns and aches, Locust Leaves burn and quake with rage, the line “mourning is my poetry, and mourning my anger also” neatly summing up the first part of this wild triptych. Part two is as different and as refreshing as the cooling rain after a particularly vicious storm, the music settling into a progressive vein, all echoing notes and gentle chords reverberating around the listener. It is as beautiful as it is unexpected, and it too conjures images of a long last past when humans walked the earth barefoot, wide-eyed with wonder and reliant only upon their own skill and intelligence to survive. Part three sees the heavy elements pour back in as a flood, but now those elements have been softened and enthralled by the fading beauty of what has passed before, and the narrator is left searching and alone, questioning identity and truth with the mournful closing lines concluding “Away from me, the light of sight is searching, I have died, but it was a lie.”
Having already absorbed the quite stunning ‘Sentinel’, that Spectral Lore’s offering was one of brilliance came as no surprise. What is cause for surprise is that Locust Leaves are every bit as good, matching Spectral Lore’s metaphysical explorations with similar depth, style and substance. Once again black metal has been rendered as an art form, its power and precision never once detracting from the beauty and emotional power of the two bands’ overarching concept. Split EPs can vary in quality, but this one is a perfectly honed representation of both artists and it is amazing to see how well each artist’s work compliments the other. This is essential listening that defies the speed and noise of everyday life and demands your complete attention for its duration. A bold, visionary piece of work, it stands as a testament to the skill and imagination of its creators and it needs to be heard.
As always, when we recommend a release so strongly we love to invite you to check for yourselves – check out the stream below and see if we were right…