"Castles Conquered and Reclaimed"

By Dr. Abner Mality

Mystras is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It's a mostly abandoned Byzantine city located in the mountains near Sparta in Greece. At one time, it was a mighty center of nobility and religion. Although its fortresses and churches are now empty, they are in a fine state of preservation.

The ruins of Mystras can be seen on the cover of the debut album of MYSTRAS, the latest project of the busy Greek musician Ayloss, best known for his work in the excellent SPECTRAL LORE. I've been a big fan of SPECTRAL LORE, so I was looking forward to this new creation. Ayloss has dedicated this album to the spirit of medieval peasants who rose up against the power of the church and the nobility. It's a worthy subject for study and I learned quite a bit from the lyrics here. For example, one of the songs is called "The Murder of Wat Tyler". Wat Tyler was a 14th century peasant who led a surprisingly successful revolt against British royalty until he was killed and the rebellion quashed.

The lyrical subject is fascinating,  but what about the music? That's a trickier issue. There's a resemblance to SPECTRAL LORE, but the black metal portion of MYSTRAS' work comes across a lot more harshly than the cosmic-oriented SPECTRAL LORE. The guitar sound on the opening title track is grating and chaotic, starting the album with ravaging fury mixed with all sorts of roars, screams and somber stentorian chants. The song eventually gains more form and shape as it rolls on, but that harsh guitar sound takes getting used to.

The album alternates these blasts of powerful black metal with shorter tunes of pure medieval music like "The Cutty Wren" and "Ai Vist Lo Lop", played with authentic instruments. These medieval tunes are easy to take because of their brevity and remind me of what OBSEQUIAE is doing. There's a good dose of folkishness even in the heavy tunes. The best cut here is the excellent "The Zealots of Thessaloniki",which has a very "Greek" feel to it befitting Ayloss' own Grecian heritage. On these longer black metal songs, things alternate between genuinely majestic, powerful moments and other parts that are frankly rather monotonous and wearying. The 12 minute "The Murder of Wat Tyler" could have used some pruning.

Ayloss is an ambitious songwriter and not capable of anything really subpar. MYSTRAS is an interesting listen to say the least, but on the whole, I still prefer SPECTRAL LORE.