Review: Skáphe – Skáphe²… Skáphe Harder
Are Abyssal too accessible? Svartidauđi too upbeat? Deathspell Omega too mainstream? Try Skáphe.
The mysterious (now) two-piece esoteric black metal band Skáphe return to bring you another soundtrack to your nightmares. I was first alerted to this outfit through this humble porcelain bowl and spent a great deal of time delving into the first album released in 2014. The chilling motifs seemingly devoid of traditional riffing were a perplexing conglomerate of sound, equal parts demented and psychedelic. On their latest release, Skáphe², things are much the same, except the overall impression is of a more coordinated affair. The extremes are somehow more disparate.
The mystery isn’t merely confined to their music either, with the man solely responsible for the original release (Alex Poole) combining with D.G. (of Misþyrming and Nađra acclaim) taking care of the anguish-soaked vocals on the new album. I say mystery because it isn’t made fully clear if Alex has handled all the instrumentation on this release as well. Regardless of the personnel details, the compositional details are quite intricate and are laid out for all to hear. That is, provided you have the ear to penetrate the amorphous contorting vibrational front, without being swept away in its miasmatic haze forever.
Sometimes dense, sometimes sparse, the tracks are confounding at first, at second and every other damn listen you take. That’s part of the beauty, a beauty that’s hard to deny. Like a piece of abstract art, it is bound to put some people off immediately. Some won’t understand its appeal, which is fair. To others, however, it will rouse a strong interest to further investigate. In fact, I think the analogy of a painter is quite apt. Skáphe have painted using a unique sonic palette for us to observe.
Similar to their striking album covers, the band uses but two colours, red and black. The black is obvious. The dark, aggressive and asphyxiating roles. The red can be seen as the counterpoint. The calm. The spaces where thoughts echo within a mind. The negative space that makes the dark that much darker, the black contrast. Much can be done with just two colours, depending on the brush strokes. Skáphe utilise a variety of techniques. Sometimes hastily spreading with anxiety, seemingly at random. Other times, the brush is deeply pressed into the canvas then slowly dragged across the medium with a certain amount of weight, behind the weight is almost certainly pain. The final picture as afflicted as it is abstruse.
Compared to the first album, Skáphe² has a more refined production aesthetic which allows for a more immersive experience. The guitars breathe, and the percussion pulses. When combined with the vocals, the entire record seethes. While it would be practically futile to compare Skáphe to the majority of common acts, I will try to make some associations. Some of the cleaner guitar tones remind me of those used to great effect by Aosoth, albeit with more of a reverb-laden psychoactive-induced slant. The faster sections bring to mind the recent releases from Awe and Devouring Star. If you’re interested in those bands, or just have an inclination for bands who possess an avant-garde and often perplexing approach to crafting psychotropic black metal, try Skáphe².