Spectral Lore on Ετερόφωτος, the sense of community and cultural heritage
We’ve been following Ayloss’ activities closely, even more so when it comes to his main project Spectral Lore, both thanks to the undeniable quality of his musical outputs and because of the strength of his ideas, definitely far from the average blackster’s we are sadly accustomed to. The recent release of Ετερόφωτος, as always supported by the Italian I, Voidhanger Records, felt like the right occasion to talk to the Greek musician directly and take stock of the situation.
Ετερόφωτος comes 7 years after the previous Spectral Lore full-length album III, but only one year after the new cooperation with Mare Cognitum, Wanderers. Liner notes also say that Ετερόφωτος carries on from where 2012’s Sentinel left on both lyrical and musical level. How long have you been working on the album and what does it deal with?
I’ve recorded some of the basic ideas for the songs during the previous 3-4 years before the “official” composing for the album started and I finished writing the album in a period of two months. The goal was to recreate the composing method of Sentinel, which was written frantically in about a month and mixed during the two consecutive ones. It’s a completely different way of writing music compared to my II and III albums, which were written during long periods of many years each. This impulsive and intense method seems to “unlock” certain elements of my composing which aren’t easily reachable when I compose something in a more relaxed manner.
Ετερόφωτος was intended to be a sequel to Sentinel indeed, although I allowed it in the end to take more of its own form, let’s say. As described previously, I wanted to revisit the creative state of mind I had while making Sentinel, and at the same time, it was a good chance to also process some of the lyrical concepts and general ideas that were in my mind around then.
Ετερόφωτος, eteròphotos, means something like lit by someone/something else. What does it mean to you?
It means the one whose light is coming from others. It’s a word that is associated with a negative meaning in the common use of the language, but I wanted to claim it. Black metal talks about individualism all the time, so I wanted to focus on what our Self consists of in relation to others and community this time.
This makes me think about your several split and collaborative albums, particularly those together with Mare Cognitum, as well as the fact that you’re a one-man band. So where does Spectral Lore stand, more on the individualist or on the community side?
That’s a difficult question as these two notions are subject to various interpretations. Why must the individual and community be considered as forces in opposition and therefore “sides” in an argument we must take? It seems that what is needed is the appropriate relationship between them. For sure, the community should not erase the individual and the individual should not destroy the community. In my opinion, the current condition (especially in Western, rich countries) aided of course by capitalism is definitely geared towards individualism and values of personal success above all, which makes the cries for individualism shouted by “elitist” black metal bands ring especially hollow. After all, the funny thing is that even black metal extreme individualists are looking for a community in these subcultures, just in the way of the cult. You can’t not have a community around you and playing the lonely vampire that doesn’t need anyone other than a few minions, it’s cool if you want to roleplay, but bad if you take it seriously. So, in a few words, we do absolutely need a bigger sense of community than the one we currently have to make life better and to ensure our survival.
That’s about the political notion of community and individualism. On the artistic one, I lean towards working on my own, but it’s not something I consider better or inescapable. I believe it has to do more with my experiences and character traits and also it is convenient because of my skills. I simply am able to do every part of the music production on my own so I move on quickly like that without having to wait for someone else to do their part. That being said, collaborations are also cool and I’m up for them whenever it makes sense.
Again about community: live gigs. What’s your opinion, as an artist, about live performances? Will we ever see Spectral Lore live and, be it yes or no, why?
Live performances are great but my music as Spectral Lore does not lend itself well to this medium. I’m almost never writing music with the thought of having it performed by real people, so there are many technical and musical challenges to overcome and in the end I would prefer playing live with another project if I ever did it again. But you never know. I just see myself more as a composer rather than a performer though, so it’s not something I often think about.
There are a couple of songs, namely “The Golden Armor” and “The Sorcerer Above the Clouds”, which come with a pretty clear political subtext. Liner notes again come to help saying that the album “desires to fight back with the past while claiming what has been rightfully ours in the first place”. Could you elaborate on this?
To be honest, this is the kind of quote that I’d like everyone to interpret on their own. The basic point is though: we should define ourselves. Nobody can tell us where we belong or not. If something is important for us, there is always a paramount reason for it even though it might not be completely obvious in the first place.
The whole album appears to be a concept, and your musical production has always been “focused” on specific themes and topics on every release, be it the cosmos of Wanderers or medieval revolutions as with Mystras debut, Castles Conquered And Reclaimed. In a world of “hit and run” releases, your music needs time to be processed. Have you ever felt this as a barrier, preventing people to fully appreciate your various outputs just because they bear some deeper significance?
I wouldn’t say that my music is some kind of deep conceptual art, I just have some particular themes that interest me and I attempt every time to approach them a bit better or differently. I have noticed that some people have trouble getting into my more intense and dissonant material, as opposed to the more atmospheric and melodic one. And of course there’s the people who like one kind of thing and most of my albums in the vein of III got a wide breadth of influences and styles. But these are purely musical reasons. I guess the other barrier that exists is that my themes aren’t typical black metal themes and thus not interesting to the majority of the scene which is looking for kvlt vibes in their black metal. But that’s alright, I’m aware that I’m doing a particular form of underground music and I don’t expect a very large audience.
This is mainly a guess, but indulge me: who do you expect to be the Spectral Lore audience? Do you ever compose willing to “address” someone, or a group of people, specifically?
No, the audience is me when I’m making music and I prefer not to affect the creative process with thoughts about receptance as much as I can. We live in a ruthless capital system and these kinds of thoughts can easily make you betray your personal vision to be a people pleaser. Despite that, the audience obviously exists and has particular characteristics, even some dominant demographics within it. It’s a great bet for metal to be able to appeal in 2021 to a wider kind of audience and this is something that I would like to achieve too.
In an old interview you said the «heroic/motivational aspect is very important, but I personally believe it should come at equal measures with tragedy, doubt, melancholy, distress (…)». We Romans literally learned heroism and tragedy from you Greeks, as did the whole rest of the Western world, and I am curious: how relevant is your cultural heritage in your music?
That’s an interesting question. As you know, I’m opposed very much to nationalism and therefore I’ve never had any patriotic feelings or the like that would make me especially interested in Greek culture. In fact I tried to avoid a big part of it growing up and that’s one of the reasons why I was interested so much in an international culture such as metal, after all. Today I’m looking at the matter a bit more relaxed. You can’t really escape the influence of the culture around you even if you wanted to. So obviously I’m influenced (positively or negatively) by a few things such as prevailing attitudes, customs and the like. I like a lot of Greek folk music and it always sounded good to my ears, therefore at some point I said why not? about including some elements in my music. I like some greek writers and lately I’ve been diving into Byzantine history for my project Mystras, which is interesting. But that’s pretty much it.
Thing is that modern Greek culture doesn’t have anything to do beyond a surface relationship with the ancients and heroism and tragedy and all that. It’s a conservative as fuck and little minded society which is turning worse every day. One could argue that there’s a lot of drama though, greeks often like to see themselves as victims to whom everyone is conspiring against. And the relationship with history creates this all too familiar superiority/inferiority complex. But in any case, my belief is that nations (by the way, we’d better do without them) aren’t determined by an inward relationship to their past or culture any more. There are more significant reasons such as the economic crisis for the general landslide of the last decade.
I do not know about Chris, but along the years Ayloss became more and more clear on his political positions (even releasing an extremely political album as Mystras). Considering the right-wing-oriented environment of black metal, you are one of a kind, and one of the most prominent overtly anti-fascist blacksters. Has this ever caused you any issues within “the scene”?
Well, I’ve been getting more political personally way before I made any such comment as Spectral Lore. In fact, I was thinking about it and not doing anything for a time of perhaps, four or five years? The reason being of course the black metal scene being so right-wing dominated and me not quite having found the community that would support me. But in the end I just went and did it without caring about the consequences and everything eventually worked out. It hasn’t caused me any issues recently because everyone has learned by now what I’m about. I had a few in the beginning but nothing too serious.
You also started a YouTube channel called Antifascist Black Metal Network, which gathered a couple thousand followers in a few weeks. Can you tell us who is involved in the project, and how was it conceived?
I haven’t started it myself, I’m just one of 20 individuals that are participating in it. ABMN works as a collective and we welcome even more people to join us and contribute. Some of us had a similar idea of creating a network that would support and promote leftist, anti-fascist, LGBTQ and minority musicians within the black metal scene and would provide an alternative to apolitical channels that included a lot of sketchy content. So we gathered as many like-minded individuals we could and started it. That’s pretty much it.
After such a long call, what shall we expect from Ayloss in the near future? Any new releases or projects already scheduled?
I’m currently recording a new album for Mystras which will be released in the autumn of 2021 if all goes well, also a Spectral Lore EP that hopefully will make it for this year too. I’ve gotten back working on the full length album IV that’s been in the works for a few years now, some dungeon synth/electronic stuff, some collaborations are in the talks, that’s it pretty much. Hopefully I will stay active as much as I can.