Since as far as history goes back, we’ve heard stories of the lesser fighting back against those who hoarded their wealth and power over these people, often with bloody, violent results. We haven’t changed a bit over the centuries as those power structures remain in place and likely will until well after we’ve all moved to another plane of existence.
Greek musician Ayloss, who you also likely know from his Spectral Lore project, wanted to dig back into the ages and uncover some of these tales that remain applicable to this very second in time. His first record under the Mystras banner is “Castles Conquered and Reclaimed,” a collection that also steps back and forth between time periods with its sound and creates something enthralling and empowering along the way. With nine tracks spread over more than 50 minutes, Ayloss divides the record between noise-glazed black metal and versions of Medieval hymns played alongside special guest musicians from groups such as Lüüp, Art of Simplicity, Neda, and Spider of Pnyx. It’s a stunning collection that celebrates the common person, those who fought back against tyranny and often didn’t live to see the end of the fight. It certainly can connect with those today waging similar battles seeking justice and equality.
The title track starts the record with glorious riffs creating an impenetrable cloud of sound before Ayloss’ shrieks rain down, though in a way where they’re part of the mix and not the driving force. Guitars circle before the leads reign, and the tempo then clobbers you with immense melodies. The yells scrape while the guitars wash over again, finally bleeding out into the night and toward first Medieval piece “The Cutty Wren” where guitar strings are plucked, and pleasant breezes wash over you. “The Murder of Wat Tyler” is the longest track, running 12:39, recounting the decapitation death of the Peasants’ Revolt leader in England in the 14th Century. The track takes on a glorious hue as it gets under way while muted roars push, and melody unfurls before speaking parts leading into wild shrieks. Regal guitar work swelters before the track takes on a tidal waving force and accompanying “woah-oh” calls. Black metal-style riffing takes over as total chaos erupts, burying the song in the dust. “Contre Dolour” is a mix of acoustic guitars and flutes, reminding of a warm day on the grass.
“Storm the Walls of Mystras” has a frantic opening that splashes colors and rage as it makes for the fortified city. A sharp guitar line pokes through the storming while vicious howls pay off the caterwauling emotion. The guitars begin to race as the tempo gains intensity, continually ramping up its rampage to reckless levels. Fiery leads blaze a path while boisterous calls and strange sounds take the track to its final mark. “O Tsakitzis” has violin scraping as the song conjures thoughts of a hot midday sun, sweat soaking one’s clothes, before we head into “The Zealots of Thessaloniki” where guitars sting, the drums rustle up dust, and an angry storm brews and spreads its wings. The playing is numbing in spots as leads break out and hustle, while the tempo gets fully charged up and has froth at its mouth. The guitars hit a pre-Dickinson Maiden-style gallop, bringing blistering punishment and bleeding out in the dirt. “Ai Vist Lo Lop” is the final interlude as acoustics trample the ground, shakers rouse, and whistles hit the wind and lead toward closer “Wrath and Glory” that opens in total pummeling mode. Strong riffs ride as the playing rumbles, bringing crazed cries and massive melodies to the table. The final minutes wreck and maul, slashing in and out of pools of blood while everything fades into the night’s fires.
The idea of the downtrodden fighting back against its oppressors is a tale as old as time, yet it’s one that remains relevant, sadly, in this day and age. Ayloss’ visions with Mystras certainly are steeped partially in an era long past on “Castles Conquered and Reclaimed,” but we see these very stories playing out now, in different parts of the world, with only our technology updated. This is a passionate, meaningful record that isn’t just a great slab of atmospheric black metal but also is a reminder that the fight lingers on, and we cannot be lulled to sleep or discouraged from clashing for what is rightfully ours.
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