Following a well-received split LP with Mare Cognitum last year, Greece’s Spectral Lore let loose their third full-length III. A culmination of almost six years worth of recordings, III is a double album of ambitious and lengthy progressive black metal, boasting almost 90 minutes of music, a rich tapestry of thematic and lyrical content, and lush instrumentation and production. Although a mammoth task for the band’s sole member, Ayloss, after years of apparent writing, production and mixing issues, III is finally available for us to sink our teeth into.

An album of this size and scope can be an absolute slog to get through, but the amount of variation in genres and influences in it is astounding. Opening track ‘Omphalos’ tears through with a flurry of avant-garde guitar lines and stormy percussion, calling to mind other cosmic metalheads like Portal and Blut Aus Nord. However, Spectral Lore separates from its contemporaries with its diverse transitions between traditional black metal, doom, post-rock, ambient and even classic prog rock (‘Drifting Through Moss And Ancient Stone’ is totally Yes-inspired). Its shifts in mood and atmosphere help set it apart as well, and Ayloss really knew how to convey emotion through his music. His ambitious compositions and instrumentation express emotion well beyond the usual feelings of anger, hate and sadness in black metal, exploring feelings of doubt, curiosity, discovery, enlightenment and more. At times the record even feels… inspiring.

 The atmosphere of the record is aided tremendously by Ayloss‘ masterful guitar work, with his passion for his art only matched by his technical skill. Caught somewhere between Nathan Weaver and Martin Barre, the driving guitar lines of III are as expressive as they are elaborate, delivering both maelstroms of tumultuous guitars and softer, meditative sections. Though in the cleaner sections there is sometimes some unnecessary complexity, they never stray into self-indulgence, and help construct labyrinthine worlds as detailed and lush as the Roger Dean-inspired artwork decorating the front cover.

 Even more intriguing is the record’s concept. Ayloss states that “[III] aspires for humans to discover the importance of their own existence and the potential of their effect, negating the pessimism and existential nihilism that are ever-present in black metal”. Splitting the album into two parts: ‘Singularity’ and ‘Eternity’, III deals with spiritual themes of discovery and self-worth; the album often transitions into different phases and moods as it progresses, journeying through different genres to express the diversity of mankind and the universe, before culminating in an inspiring and empowering message about realising your own potential. If that sounds too pretentious for you, don’t worry. The record still rips with some beautifully intricate guitar work and thick, meaty growls. With the addition of the amazing concept and lyrics, III is set out to be one of the most ambitious black metal records of 2014 and the Spectral Lore‘s finest work to date.

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