Editor’s Note: please welcome our newest writer, Andrew Hatch, to the Heavy Blog family! As you can see below, he has some writing/black metal chops and we’re very excited to have him on board. Good luck, Andrew!
Like all metalheads, I listen to a handful of artists who are conspicuously unknown. One such band is Skogmark, an atmospheric black metal band hailing from the frozen grandiosity of St. Petersburg, Russia. Their full-length debut, Sworn to Paganism, is a particular favorite of mine that I would like to see get more recognition. Although Skogmark is primarily an atmoblack outfit, don’t mistake their music for the pleasant, wafting melodies of Saor. They more closely related to a meaner, more clinically depressed Windir.
Skogmark lacks folk instruments, and the informatively named vocalist Hate uses every manner of black metal shrieks, groans, and wails. In fact, the song “Requiem” serves up possibly the most complete sampling of black metal vocal techniques in existence. Beginning at about the fifth minute, Hate makes every kind of horrible caterwauling, grunting, keening and frog-being-tortured kind of sound you could possibly imagine, as if he were trying to check off every requirement for an assignment at black metal school.
Although Sworn to Paganism spends its fair share of time dwelling in the icy recesses of depressive atmoblack, the album has more than enough beautiful melodic leads to go around. The first two tracks in particular feature a wonderful separation between the soaring, thin leads dancing above the rhythm section. The keyboards in particular play a vital role in Skogmark’s sound. Unlike some atmospheric bands, the keyboards (almost) never take center stage. Instead, they lurk in the background, providing a warmth to the sound which contrasts nicely with the flight of the cold lead guitar.
Sworn to Paganism is an album that feels honest. When “Spirit of Forests” opens the album with the crackle of fire and animal cries, the samples do not feel like a gimmick. Their debut EP was a concept album called Autumn – Winter, with songs based on the seasons. Don’t doubt that the bandmembers are literally sworn to paganism. Their honesty is refreshing in a modern metal scene that at times can feel too corporate and plastic.
Sworn to Paganism is a surprisingly elastic album. Some atmospheric black metal seems to require a certain mood or setting to be properly enjoyed. But despite its atmospheric qualities, Skogmark employs plenty of great riffing and occasionally just plain shred to make for good metal listening on any occasion. (Play it at birthday parties, graduations, or weddings!) The first two tracks and the closer, “Awaiting the Blizzards,” are fine examples of this. Sworn to Paganism is an album I highly recommend for anyone who is a fan of atmospheric black metal, or would like a stepping stone into the depressive side of black metal. Helpfully, Skogmark currently offers their entire discography for free download on their Facebook. Get it before the deal disappears!