Last year, Spectral Lore contributed 50 percent of a triple-album’s worth of cosmic black metal exploration on Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine, the Greek outfit’s split release with I, Voidhanger labelmates Mare Cognitum. For most bands that would be a career making statement—the stuff of cult heavy music legend. That album showcased a masterful display of black metal prowess and creativity, not to mention a kind of synchronicity between the two artists—who created their separate but complementary parts on separate continents—but it also transcended the limits of genre, showcasing the emotional and spiritual expanse of black metal beyond its often imitated lo-fi roots.
If Spectral Lore decided to take a year off and catch up on some Netflix shows, nobody would have held it against them. Hell, even something as simple as an EP would have felt like an act of generosity. But their split-mates Mare Cognitum released their own colossal work earlier this year, and thus it only natural follows that Spectral Lore offer up their own sprawling, 70-minute set of firebrand black metal in turn. (It’s also worth noting that two other I, Voidhanger bands that released music last year, Neptunian Maximalism and Esoctrilihum, have new albums as well—the Italian art metal label, it would appear, can’t be stopped.) Ετερόφωτος is the first proper, full-length Spectral Lore album to follow 2014’s darkly atmospheric III, and while it’s firmly rooted on earth rather than the distant corners of our galaxy, it presents a more grounded and raw form of black metal that aims for heights beyond the known world.
From the opening rush of “Ατραπός,” Spectral Lore signal a transition away from the atmospheric sounds that have come to define their music over their past few releases and toward a more muscular, sinewy approach. It’s an epic piece of screaming black metal fury, unrelenting for much of the duration of its 12-minute span. Movements shift and evolve, but it’s only five minutes in that any kind of breath or clearing occurs, and from its open space is born a particularly satisfying groove. It feels like a kind of calculated sorcery in the manner that Krallice might pull off, intricate but punctuated by a heaviness that’s deeply satisfying. There’s a more dissonant sonic approach to “The Golden Armor,” and a more heroic, melodic black metal sensibility to “Initiation Into the Mystery,” one of the rare moments in which Spectral Lore prove their ability to do a classic black metal sound better than just about anyone else. But it’s in moments like the dynamic, 11-plus-minute “The Sorcerer Above the Clouds” in which Spectral Lore showcase the vast depths of their sound, traveling from a haunting and low-key intro into a bombastic onslaught of sound.
Though Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore each followed up their epic collaborative piece with their own separate releases, they too are complementary to each other in a way. Where the former’s Solar Paroxysm is a reckoning of sorts with humanity’s tendencies toward regression, Ετερόφωτος is driven by a radical empathy and a drive toward fighting back against the forces that hold us back. The album’s title is a word that doesn’t have a direct translation in English, but which means “the one whose light comes from others.” And amid the ferocity of the album, there’s a depth and humanity that drives these colossal anthems. In a genre defined by misanthropy and performative depravity, there’s something refreshing in hearing an artist that isn’t as fascinated by mundane and worn-out explorations of cartoon evil. A sustainable, hopeful future will require us to fight for it, and Spectral Lore is providing its battle cry.
Label: I, Voidhanger
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.