Black metal has the unique trait of being a simultaneously phenomenal and abysmal genre. With an innately prolific trait and a relatively simple, consistent formulaic structure, the genre has spawned countless innovators as well as countless more bedroom warriors churning out one “Name Your Price” Bandcamp dud after another. Unfortunately, a combination of shortened attention spans and a rapid, intense yearly music consumption schedule has caused some of these innovators to also fall into obscurity. One month the metal blogosphere is gushing about the latest BM masterpiece, the next it’s landing on a smattering of personal year end lists and then finally it becomes a nostalgia trip to stumble upon some time later after jamming the next BM flavor of the month. This seemed to be the case for Skáphe, the side-project of Alex Poole (Chaos Moon, Esoterica, Krieg) which spawned a self-titled debut filled with some of the rawest experimental BM of the decade thus far. That is, this was the case, up until Poole enlisted burgeoning Icelandic heavyweight D.G. (Misþyrming, Naðra) to spawn Skáphe², a sequel that capitalizes and expands upon everything its predecessor had to offer.
This is clear from a production and vocal standpoint from the moment D.G. bellows over gargantuan guitars on “I.” Skáphe was a much rawer affair overall, with Poole providing typical BM shrieks over brittle, icy production that felt comparable to formative genre albums. But Skáphe² was obviously captured through better equipment; Poole’s guitars and their resonant tones still feel murky, but they achieve clarity in an invasive, suffocating sense. And while there was nothing the matter with Skáphe’s vocals, D.G.’s approach brings more variety to the table. His mournful weeps and guttural roars accent Poole’s guitarwork perfectly and pierce through the veil of treble while feeling sufficiently drowned in sorrow and pain.
Ultimately, this is Skáphe²’s greatest asset: feeling like the soundtrack to a hellish ritual unfit for mortal gaze. Poole achieves this by weaving multiple BM stylings together without fancying any particular one. Thick, pummeling riffs verging on bestial black metal suddenly give way to eerie ambience that echoes in a cavernous manner. Much of Poole’s compositional approach feels like Portal yanked through an Evoken filter and marinated in BM’s foulest traits and trends. While each track exhibits Skáphe²’s strengths, “IV” does so most aptly, with eight-minutes of tense ebbing and flowing constantly brewing until erupting into a cacophony of oppressive Poole riffs and tortured D.G. screams. It’s also a testament to how succinct Poole is as a songwriter; all of the album’s six tracks exhibit widespread sonic exploration in under ten-minutes and sometimes less than five.
Poole may not be particularly longwinded, but what he forgoes in track length he gains in pure compositional excellence. And it’s abundantly clear that expanding Skáphe to a duo was a choice well made; D.G. adds another impressive feat to his resume and assists in crafting a serious contender for this year’ BM album of the year. Admittedly, Skáphe² is an anomaly, as numerous underground BM acts are still lost within the hastening cogs of the blogosphere machine. But the album also acts as a defiant message from Poole, informing well-minded BM fans where their attention should remain this year and for years to come.
Skáphe – Skáphe² gets…