We again invited Ayloss, the man behind the Greek band Spectral Lore, to share with us his list of favorite 2015 releases. As expected, it’s a wide-ranging and distinctive collection of music, much like the music of Spectral Lore itself.
Speaking of the music of Spectral Lore, 2015 saw the release of two experimental EPs (the covers of which are above) — Gnosis and Voyager — and the third of those planned releases is expected later this month. And now, here is the list and the comments of Ayloss about the music:
A Forest of Stars – Beware the Sword You Cannot See
This band has gone far. I admit that while I was intrigued by their first two albums (actually even before, anyone remember their old first website?), Ι found something missing in them, maybe a bit more solid song-writing to hold together the long compositions and high lyrical concepts. Well, enter “Drawing Down the Rain”, possibly the best song I’ve heard in this year, a song which seems to contain everything I like the most in music. When you kick-start your album like that, you just can’t fail and Beware… holds many other shining gems as well. A vast, ambitious, multi-faceted album, the surface of which after numerous listens I feel I’ve only scraped.
Kauan – Sorni Nai
Kauan’s composer, Anton Belov, knows a thing or two about flow. In essence, he creates more soundtracks than he does music albums. The music in Sorni Nai might be generally simple, but it is orchestrated, performed, and produced with such eloquence to hit really high emotional peaks.
This is also the most intriguing aspect of Sorni Nai — this is an album that deals lyrically with the horrifying Dyatlov Pass Incident, yet in so many moments it sounds so epic and liberating. Meaningful, I’d dare say. I’ve seen the band post lots of real photos of the exhibition’s members on Facebook some days ago. It was a very strong moment, seeing these while listening to the album at the same time, and it says something about their approach.
Nechochwen – Heart of Akamon
Every review I’ve seen of Nechochwen seems to simply change the “European” part with “native American” and go on as if this is a typical folk metal record. Do bands really have to spell out “prog” for the world to notice? It is the complexity and technicality (in the most positive sense of both words) that differentiates Nechochwen from other folk metal bands, as much as their Native American folk parts. This is a really dense record that demands attention. Quite idiosyncratic riffing and overall excellent guitar playing, especially on the classical guitar parts… there is some masterwork here.
Obsequiae – Aria of Vernal Tombs
As with Nechochwen, there is a particular theme in this band, an influence from medieval music and lyrics that deal with myths from antiquity, from a kind of renaissance romantic perspective. Yet it’s not the piety of church music that interests them more, but the vigor of peasant music.
This is life metal, metal of light, that is not afraid to aim for beauty, and it succeeds because the beauty that it reflects is feral, rooted in extreme metal. A tamed wild beast, rather than a pet showing its teeth. A treatise in double-guitar lead playing, which doesn’t ever get boring even though it plays for most of the album, with conventional riffing being sparse in comparison. And that is the bet that Obsequiae has won with this album; they refined their style even further, did not succumb to easy solutions (see: typical melodic bm riffs, variety for variety’s sake) and came out unharmed and victorious.
Ethereal Shroud – They Became the Falling Ash
On the surface, what Ethereal Shroud is doing might not seem impressive. A mix of atmospheric black metal and funeral doom, with some weirdly reverbed vocals and a kind of bedroom-ish ambient mix. Keep listening. Everything soon falls into place and suddenly there is no style, no mix, no vocals. There are roaring waters, howling winds, raging fires. The tracks build up in intensity and reach climaxes that send us soaring into vast skies. A sense of great urgency, coupled with restraint, to wait for that special moment. This is how you do this.
Oh, and also by writing and perfecting an album for 8 damn years, as Joe Hawker did, a young guy of just 22 winters, by the way. They Became the Falling Ash is a sophomore album, but it is already an accomplishment that very few can claim. It’s one of these really special albums. LISTEN TO THIS.
Magic Circle – Journey Blind
This year I’ve almost listened to no current heavy metal releases, going back to the ’80s and early ’90s for my needs. But this one definitely makes up for a lot. Τhese Stone Dagger punks continue to beat heavy metallers at their own game. Mystical, warm, human, but also otherworldly. Sorrowful but powerful, how I like my doom metal to be.
Midnight Odyssey – Shards of Silver Fade
Normally I shouldn’t be putting this on a list, as I have a special relationship with the label that put it out, but the list feels really naked without it. So let me just mention that this is Dis Pater’s great achievement and that those of you who still haven’t listened to it are missing a lot.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
I might surprise some of you by stating that Sufjan Stevens is my favorite artist all-around. I consider his albums, especially from Illinois and on, as absolutely perfect. This is by far the simplest musically of all Sufjan albums, but at the same time the depth of these simple folk songs is dazzling. From the lyricism, to the performance, to every single sound and instrument of this album.
I will state a dreary cliche, but very true for me: Sufjan Stevens’ art makes us better persons. It’s in such art I find the liminal space between this world and whatever else might be beyond, rather than in self-conscious occult stuff. The wholeness of life hitting you suddenly in the face, profound realizations, experience of the sublime.
Joanna Newsom – Divers
Joanna Newsom is as adventurous as ever compositionally, perhaps even at her peak. And it is a testament to her song-writing ability that even though she threw away the defining characteristics of her first two albums (that spectacular high-register quirkiness of her voice and lo-fi charm of the debut, and the symphonic orchestration and baroque structure of Ys), she still lulls me as much in the afore-mentioned masterpieces. The intensity with which she approaches composition dwarfs the vast majority of “hey, look at me” prog/technical/whatever in “our” kind of music. She’s a real badass.
Aïsha Devi – Of Matter And Spirit
I’ve been getting a lot into psychedelic electronic music this year. This has been the greatest revelation so far. Aïsha Devi describes herself as a techno-spiritualist composer, wanting to “trigger a social and spiritual awareness through music”, and all that stuff that may sound new-agey, yet I’m sure she’s quite serious. There’s an obvious shamanic and trance-inducing quality in her very unconventional music, especially when I listen to it loud enough in headphones. And holy fuck, that video of “Mazdâ”…
Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete
Having called Aïsha Devi’s music unconventional, what the hell I am supposed to do here? Daniel Lopatin is actually one of the leaders of this kind of new-weirdness movement in electronic music, utilizing pitched-up vocals, extreme editing and syncopated rhythms, old-school, ’80s synths, video game music, and so on. However, while in Aphex Twin, say, the speed is used in a more punk-rock way, here it goes for the psychedelic and alienating effect. It’s quite an achievement that nothing else sounds like Oneohtrix Point Never, like he created a new genre for himself.
Arca – Mutant
And here, I’m totally upping the weirdness level. This feels like.. post-humanity, taking a peak at something so alien and advanced to you, that you’re left with a mixed feeling of awe and non-understanding. Concepts of music, sound, rhythm, instrument groups, and melody meld under Arca’s command. I’m not even sure what I’m listening to most of the time, yet I know it’s fantastic. Just look at this cover, I mean.
David Lang & Mac Wellman – The Difficulty of Crossing the Field
Let’s finish with some quality modern classical music. David Lang is one of the most accomplished US composers, having kind of made an entry into the indie world as well, working with the likes of Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, Shara Warden (also listen to the fantastic 2014 release Death Speaks). This release is a kind of musical theater, in a way a mix between the film and its soundtrack, with music and spoken word alternating. What’s fascinating is that it is a so perfectly recorded album that all words are clearly heard, even in the singing passages, allowing you to follow the story. It takes place in 1854 near Selma, Alabama, and “recounts how a planter named Williamson suddenly seemingly disappears without a trace in front of witnesses, most of whom, being colored…are deemed incompetent to testify”. A real worthy and unique experience.