This year’s most dynamic black metal album is Spectral Lore’s Ετερόφωτος, which comes out Friday through I, Voidhanger Records. The sole province of Greek musician Ayloss, he weaves through a battery that sounds heroic and adventurous minus the arrogance, some of the most serene 2010s post-black metal more prevalent in his other work (“Ατραπός”), dissonant chaos (the aptly named “Apocalypse”), and ambient stretches that blur the line between destruction and renewal (closer “Terean”), bursting through once again with a singular work. I first came to Spectral Lore through his 2015 EP Gnosis and was struck by its doomy mysticism; Ετερόφωτος sounds markedly different yet retains that mystical air. Ultimately, it’s a record about honoring your roots and learning to transcend them all the same.
For a strident anti-fascist like Ayloss, this means taking a hard stand against black metal’s rampant right-wing ties, which are so numerous that they’ve clouded (and almost defined) the genre for ages. “I think the friction caused by confronting its worst aspects from the inside is immensely useful,” he said to me in an email exchange. “Fortunately though, subcultures change and black metal today incorporates much wider views than the misanthropic fantasies of lonely ‘90s teenagers.” Ayloss knows that, bluntly, growing the fuck up is actually quite metal, and you don’t have to lose sight of who you are. Ετερόφωτος is bold and mature in that way, not just musically. Read more of our interview below.
(This interview has been condensed for length.)
SPIN: What is the arc of Ετερόφωτος?
Ayloss: Ετερόφωτος is in many ways a sequel to Sentinel [SL’s third record] which was intended to be my aggressive, no-holds-barred album, a bit of an anomaly for anyone that’s aware of the beginnings of my project, which lie more in the ambient and experimental side of black metal. Sentinel is a sort of cosmic enlightenment kind of story, in which the hero is being transported to a “City of the Gods” in the end to serve and protect the eternal values. In Ετερόφωτος this doesn’t seem to be going too well, as the Gods are silent, the values are useless without anyone practicing them and in Earth chaos, dissent and war are prevalent. So the Sentinel rejects eternal enlightenment and descends back into the fray. In a way, Ετερόφωτος is a very personal project in which I review certain things I believed about myself and in general back then when I made Sentinel. At the same time, it’s a return to the primary drive behind that album, which is a call to action.
What is the importance of the title Ετερόφωτος?
“Ετερόφωτος” means “that one whose light is coming from others.” Ιt’s a word that’s mostly used with a negative meaning in Greek to refer to people that don’t have a character of their own, as opposed to “αυτόφωτος,” which means self-enlightened. Which is something that nobody truly is. Even if we manage to create something that looks really unique, we are at all times a hodgepodge of all the influences that have been revealed upon us.
Is there an interesting contradiction being a one-man black metal band and having a communal outlook?
I don’t think you’re supposed to necessarily play music with others in a community with a communal/anti-capitalist outlook, if I get what you mean. I made a one-man band because I was playing in bands that I wasn’t satisfied with completely, as they weren’t playing exactly what kind of music I wanted to play, or were going too slow. I found out eventually that it was more fun and more satisfying to me musically to do everything on my own. On the other hand, would this situation be different if I lived in a society with less capitalist alienation and more cooperation? For sure it would be. Maybe I would have found associates that are closer to my style. Plus I would have lesser social anxiety, which around then made it harder for me to be into bands. And I’ll admit that the decision to play as a one-man band maybe also has a little bit of that classic black metal narcissism involved. But in recent years, I’ve begun to collaborate more and more with people, especially as I’ve found a like-minded community around me. So now I’ve got a few new projects and when the pandemic ends I’m actually quite excited to rehearse with people again. While not every little contradiction is supposed to necessarily get solved, because the world isn’t perfect and neither are we, when things get better, they naturally tend to.
Spectral Lore is more musically interesting and complex than a lot of ho-hum BM. Is this an intentional/integral part of saying “fuck you” to fascists? How can we make “extreme” not a synonym for “edgy” in metal?
I wouldn’t say so, my musical choices are meant to please and express myself first and foremost. There was a time when it was more difficult to express myself because I was making music inside the constraints of what black metal was supposed to be and not be. When I understood that I don’t have to comply to any gatekeeper rules, I began to incorporate more and more elements into my music.
I don’t think “extreme” and “edgy” are very different, there’s the same kind of trappings into making and maintaining an identity around them. If you want to be extreme and edgy at all times, you’ll end up being an asshole because a lot of times sucking up and learning from others is the right thing to do. Nurturing and care-taking is as important in life as confrontation.
Metal bands sing about war and horror and slaughter but would shudder at the thought of making a statement about the real world that would maybe alienate some of their fans. It’s the real world that is the scariest thing of them all, because the primary reason for consuming media is to get away from it. Imagine if instead of “generally” singing about violence, we spoke about war and violence against the powerful people of the world that deserve it, the capitalists, the corporations, the fascists, the police, the corrupted politicians. You know, the real enemies.
Imagine if we sang about violence to homophobes, racists and sexists and then went to find out a large number of our co-workers, friends or fans look at us in a weird way because they see themselves in what we talked about. That’s not easy. And because of that, we’ll always get to hear that “this is not the stuff metal bands talk about, that’s punk” and that “I want this music to carry me out of the world, not remind me of the problems.” But we all know that’s basically cowardice. It’s OK to make escapist art – I do myself, after all, sometimes we want to get away a bit and it’s also actually a way to experiment with what we believe and what we want. But if you want to be edgy in a meaningful way, include the real world and real problems in your stories. Take seriously what you sing about and take a stand in real issues. If you want to be dangerous, you’ll have to also face danger itself, there can’t be any other way.
Despite all the shady figures and its own rocky history, what keeps you in black metal? How is that reflected on Ετερόφωτος?
Because it’s great music and great art. Music is emotion in its purest state and there isn’t a lot of albums, say like Bathory’s Hammerheart, that can make you feel the sense and thrill of adventure, the waves of the sea crashing at you, sword in hand, off to meet your enemies in battle, even if Quorthon was largely driven by nationalist and Euro-centrist sentiments in his work. So let us put into this music lyrics that won’t make us cringe when we understand what the vocalist is saying or meaning, things that we believe firmly and will sing with pride.
One of the greatest attractions about black metal relating to the Norwegian scene was that these fucked up teenagers did what they were talking about in the records. Remove the cheap satanism and misanthropy and black metal is pretty revolutionary genre in its disposition. It’s music that makes you feel like you’re as powerful to do any change that you want in the world. That’s metal in a nutshell and metal is great and important music. Ετερόφωτος is an uncompromising metal record in the end that isn’t afraid about its influences. There’s no reason to look down on metal because perhaps it’s not the most intellectual or musically advanced genre in music there is and was once largely made by adolescent white males with stupid opinions. What matters is that some important art was made in the process and that’s now in the hands of everyone to enjoy, be influenced by, marry it with the things they want and carry on its legacy.
Other stuff I’m feeling this month:
夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) — Noč Na Krayu Sveta (Sentient Ruin)
This mysterious international trio returns with another stunning EP which further pushes their bizarre and brilliant fusion of black metal, drone-doom, and ‘80s downtown New York jazz. Get weird or get the fuck out.
Victory Over the Sun — “Nowherer” (from Nowherer) (Self-released)
Vivian Tylińska makes microtonal black metal as Victory Over the Sun, and it’s dizzying and spellbinding in all the best ways. “Nowherer” is a taste of the album of the same name, out Friday.
Steel Bearing Hand — Slay in Hell (Carbonized)
If you’re looking for something way less avant this month, Dallas’ Steel Bearing Hand second album is ripping death-thrash that isn’t afraid to stretch out towards its end. Texas stays heavy.
Impure — The Carrion Feast (Self-released)
Brooklyn duo Impure’s “Worship Them” was one of my favorite songs from last year, black metal that embraced groove. Their latest EP carries on that same darkened path, and if they call this “absolute Christcrushing atrocities,” who are we to disagree?