Before listening to The Great Mist Within, I thought I knew a thing or two about Ayloss, the prolific mastermind of Spectral Lore and Mystras. Ever since Spectral Lore’s III swept me off my feet in 2014, I’ve been an avid follower of his work. Ayloss has described his new project Auriferous Flame as a 90s black metal act, a “continuation of many of the ideas and music styles in Mystras” minus the folk influences. This description made me suspect that The Great Mist Within would be digestible but unimaginative, aping Mystras without the key ingredients that make Mystras sound like Mystras. I was ready to be mildly disappointed by 40 minutes of middling black metal.
My inkling was wrong. Auriferous Flame is Ayloss’ most impenetrable project yet. The marketing is accurate insofar as the tools at Auriferous Flame’s disposal should be familiar to black metal fans: tremolo riffs, shrieked vocals, repetitive rapid-fire drumming, the whole shebang. But this description doesn’t do justice to the album’s distinctive songwriting. The Great Mist Within is post-metal in the truest sense, layering together black metal instruments to weave textures rather than merely playing riffs and melodies. Multiple guitars, tormented vocals, soaring synths, and ethereal chants swoop in and out throughout the record, coalescing into a suffocating ambience. The standard black metal elements make the album sound deceptively simple on first listen, and it takes dedicated effort to discern the elements lurking beneath the surface.
Auriferous Flame has constructed an oppressive atmosphere unlike any other I’ve heard this year. Refusing to yield to clichés, The Great Mist Within creates its claustrophobic ambience not through insipid “atmospheric” riffs but through unforgiving layers of sounds. The densest sections accomplish this best, using several concurrent melodies to surround the unsuspecting listener with no room for escape (“The Great Mist Within,” “Ancient Corridors”). Contributing to this tangible unease, many of the screeching guitar lines on The Great Mist Within seem to resemble shapeless noise at first. It took me several close listens to even begin to comprehend the thoughtful ideas underpinning these maelstroms, like the unhinged three-note guitar line ringing in the background as the metal part of “Ancient Corridors” concludes. And over a dozen spins later, I still uncover new melodies tucked away amidst the mayhem each time I listen through the album. These strengths are marred by The Great Mist Within’s loud, muddy production job. Especially at climactic moments when countless instruments are vying for my attention, I struggle to hear exactly what’s going on, as everything drowns everything else out. Black metal thrives on rawness, but Auriferous Flame’s intricate compositions would be even more impactful with a clearer, more dynamic master.
Auriferous Flame songs are engaging and cohesive despite their daunting lengths. To no one’s surprise, Ayloss excels at anchoring songs to compelling motifs, making even the two 11-minute tracks feel manageable. Conversely, the unexpected guitar melodies, bass flourishes, and backing synths that enter and exit throughout the album ensure that it never gets boring despite its repetition. The Great Mist Within uses its chaos to craft spectacular transitions between sections, with new melodies often emerging stealthily in the background before transforming into center-stage leads (“Molten Gold”). The album’s five tracks ebb and flow with grace, using slower and softer sections to establish themes that build patiently toward staggering climaxes, most notably in the second half of “Ancient Corridors.” A perplexing flaw in Auriferous Flame’s songwriting is that four of the five tracks end with lazy fade-outs, which blunt the impact of the climaxes that precede them. Ayloss is capable of writing creative outros, and I wish he’d done so here.
The Great Mist Within was a tough album to score. After my initial listens, I wrote it off as poorly-produced black metal and planned to give it a reluctant 2.5. After many more frazzled listens, The Great Mist Within is a 4.5 masquerading as a 3.5. Better production and more creative song endings would have guaranteed it a year-end list spot. Auriferous Flame’s painstaking songwriting makes this a challenging but endlessly rewarding listen. Indeed, one reason why this review is late is that I find new aspects of the record to appreciate on every spin. The Great Mist Within’s magnificent chaos demands your attention, and sure as hell deserves it.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: True Cult Records
Releases Worldwide: August 26th, 2022
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