Into the ancient world with Mystras
I thought, at first, that this album was a reference to the Forgotten Realms. I was wrong, but Mystras does like referring to forgotten times and history in its music. The name is derived from a fortified town in Laconia, Greece, which inspired the project. The first offering from this project is ‘Castles Conquered and Reclaimed’.
The project was founded by Ayloss, who has also been active in Divine Element, Spectral Lore, Ontrothon, Sage of the Ancient Glass and more. In this project, he brings together epic black metal and folk/ars nova music. Multiple guest musicians have joined in this project, to create something worthwhile for you to listen to (members of Lüüp, Art of Simplicity, and Spider of Pnyx join Ayloss on this record). The concept is in fact a bit more tricky to explain. Mystras focuses on the downtrodden, the rejected, in a sense. That helps turn the album into a rebellious battle cry, a medieval black metal statement if you will.
Ancient rebellions arise anew
The sound of Mystras is very particular. Imagine lo-fi black metal, but even more thin and caustic sounding, then in turn laced with folk elements. At least, that’s what follows after the opening title track. Particularly English folklore appears to interest Ayloss, who refers to Wat Tyler and The Cutty Wren in the first three songs. Both are very nice tunes though. The instrumental ‘The Cutty Wren’ has all the charm of an English folk song. Gentle and swooning, but full of nostalgia. On ‘The Murder of Wat Tyler’ a little of the violent sound returns in a primitive sounding metal tune of 13 minutes. The lyrics are pretty dense and long, so you need that time to get your story across in harsh vocals. It’s fearsome, but also rich in texture, which is why this is such a great track again.
From ‘Contre Dolour’, which feels more ancient than the previous instrumental. we go into ‘Storm the Walls of Mystras’. Another epic black metal track, with massive waves of riffs hitting you in the face. But just listen to how that guitar roars and spins around and through it. There’s a sound of hope, action, and strife. The theme is in fact rebellion against emperors, fighting against the Byzantines who are doomed to fall. It’s a complex matter in a history book and I feel that Ayloss is crafting an own version here in some ways, which works.
Zealots of Thessaloniki
Another thing I love is basically how the melodies just soar over the rumbling black metal madness son both ‘The Zealots of Thessaloniki’ and ‘Wrath and Glory’. There are the uncouth fury and savagery, but also majestic riffing to create beauty in the darkness. And you would indeed think this would not work together, as it apparently clashes big time, but Mystras makes it work. The first song is about self-rule implemented by the Zealots, who ruled the city. It’s told through a song that is at times gruff with its woven patterns, much like a reed chair I would say, the way all the hard parts chafe and clash. It’s a strange comparison, but it helps illuminate how much space the song offers. It’s not a thick production, but purposefully thin. That’s pretty cool for the result it brings.
Majestic, strong and surprising, a record to write home about. Mystras unleashes an album, right for this time. An album filled with the antidote against the racist and nationalist currents of our time, by looking back at how people make the difference. True medieval black metal with a ray of hope.
Label: I, Voidhanger Records