Skáphe - Skáphe²You’ve witnessed the scene. It’s a part of the furniture in many contemporary neo-neo-noir, ominously foreboding, condemningly pseudofuturist movies. Our heroic but morally ambiguous protagonist visits some sort of underground nightclub. People, presumably the filth of the city, dance spastically (yet provocatively) under stroboscopes, adorned by black leather and fetishized clothing. A mixture of disgust and temptation lingers while a red haze surrounds the entangled mess of bodies. It’s Hollywood’s typical portrayal of Hell on Earth, a mise-en-scène imbued with cheap symbolism. Imagine now a worthy metal accompaniment to such a spectacle in real life, deprived of all the fabricated fanciness, something that would eclipse phony visual cues and provide a truly infernal setting. Forget about the usual sonic backdrop featuring, at best, Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails or, at worst, someone’s archaic idea of Detroit techno. Imagine instead, music so punishing and absurd that it makes you stagger while it replaces even the most resilient, essential hopes with an awareness of the inevitability and existential dread of a genuine Hell. Do you have it in your mind? Well, then you can feel how Alex Poole’s (Krieg, Esoterica, Chaos Moon) and D.G.’s (Misþyrming, Naðra) project Skáphe sounds. Skáphe², you see, is an unapologetically extreme attack on the senses and a source of ruthless, grueling emotional overload. And it’s beautiful.

Only half a minute of the introductory “I” sufficed to make me believe that Skáphe² might be one of the best black metal releases of the year. I write “black metal,” but in reality Skáphe transcends the boundaries of the genre and employs pronounced drone, harsh noise, and avant-garde elements to accomplish this feat. The full force of the music strikes you right away: the monolithic, impossibly dense wall of guitars, bass, and drums plows forth while standing still, leaving a burning shadow in its wake and placing an unbearable weight on your soul. As the song progresses, you find yourself dumbfounded, it’s almost too much to absorb and comprehend, but you slowly start to grasp that there are structures, layers, melodies, and grooves hidden in the scrawled sound. Delayed, dissonant guitars wail and try to escape from the abyss, while drums and bass form an incessant rumble over which tortured, demoniacal vocals echo and moan. There’s a slower section to the tune, making you believe, if for the briefest of instants, there might be salvation waiting ahead. But this faint hope is there only to be brutally taken away as you comprehend that even the “mellower” sections, devoid of pummeling blast beats, reign caustic and castigating as they drone with maniacal screeches and atonality.

Pieces “II” through “VI” all retain the same level of crushing intensity and atmosphere. “II,” while raw, shows Skáphe’s willingness to toy with diverse concepts as they craft an ingenious tune carried by an almost imperceptible melody that lurks behind the closely knit production and noise mantle. On the other hand, the longest song on the record “IV” exploits a post-metal sense of circular, aimless roaming and uses restless, sickly noises to emphasize the rage and anguish that will shortly ensue. Despite the incessant brutality of Poole’s compositional approach and because of how the cuts and performance continue to shift and mutate, creating contrasting architectures on various levels of abstraction, there is never a dull moment during this incomparable monstrosity’s 36 minutes. It’s music that hurts and burns, yet keeps you wanting.

unicorn dark sublte

While the self-titled début was a commendable solo effort by Poole, bringing vocalist D.G. on board enabled him to expand and distill the already towering approach, making Skáphe² a near perfect record in all aspects. Most of the instrumentarium, one can only guess, is skillfully handled by Poole himself while D.G. resorts to an array of inhuman vocalizations – shrieks, howls, moans – rather than anything resembling “singing.” It’s hard to find any faults in either’s performance as the musicianship is generally spot on. Likewise, the production is cunningly lo-fi, perfectly fitting for this music: filthy and muddled, yet revealing of all its complexities. The dynamics are utterly compressed, of course, but, trust me, you wouldn’t want it any other way.

There are times when one becomes saturated with all the music available, at just a few clicks away, and starts spiraling towards a resounding, morose “meh” attitude. Then something like Skáphe² comes along and, as a jolt of unrefined evil, revitalizes everything and everyone. I await Skáphe’s next release both with terror and exhilaration.

Rating: Excellent
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: FLAC 24-bit
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Releases Worldwide: March 11th, 2016

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    That unicorning is next level.

    Oh, and this album is definitely gonna be hitting my top 10 for 2016. Fantastic review dude. Considering just how much of an upgrade this record is from Skáphe², Skáphe³ (name in the works) is gonna work nightmarish wonders.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      The unicorn work is the best non-insulting/insulting piece of work ever.

      • Can’t really lampoon a 4.5 too hard.

        • Roquentin

          Thank you, master Druhm. You outdid yourself.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          This is true. It is a fitting piece of art.

      • Blueberry Balls

        Ill just leave this right here…

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          And the classiness has returned.

          • Blueberry Balls

            Do you have a link for the original full size photo? I want to do this one in a larger pic for desktop, love it.

  • Dethjesta

    Wonderfully written review, that exceptionally captures the despair, horror and darkness of this record and, while I’m enjoying it immensely, I’m not sure it’s something I could listen too a lot without my ‘shadow self’ taking dominance over my consciousness as I slide inextricably into Hell.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      And it’s a free ride into Hell (or at least, name your price)!

      • Dethjesta

        Good price for the album, but seems expensive for a trip to Hell. Shouldn’t I get some ‘goodies’ from Satan in exchange for my (only partially damaged) soul.

        • Monsterth Goatom

          Party Favours and grape Hubba Bubba for the first 50. Promotion ends Saturday.

      • Roquentin

        Free on Skaphe’s, but 7 EUR on I, Voidhanger’s Bandcamp. Go figure.

    • Roquentin

      Thanks! And, yeah, this should be enjoyed in small doses.

  • Where did you find this R?

    • Roquentin

      My girlfriend pointed it out to me, yet again. She has a knack for finding great stuff that I somehow overlook.

      But it’s been floating around for a while, garnered quite some hype in recent days.

  • Bart the Repairman

    Oh my, that was brutal. Suddenly, Blut Aus Nord starts to sound sweet as double-rainbows…

    • mtlman1990

      Meh, Work Which Transforms God, Choir of The Dead specifically, still makes me feel more uneasy haha.

  • brutal_sushi

    Two metal genres that I don’t particularly like and/or get are Avant-gade and Black Metal… but that embedded track is so fucking bleak and scary, that even I, can appreciate the shit out of it.

  • Reese Burns

    Those vocals almost sound a bit Nergal-esque. I like it.

  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    That first paragraph alone will force me to check out this album.

    • That and perhaps second Blade movie.

      • Fourth you mean? Blade IV: the Auditing!

        • Blade V: Tax This!

  • basenjibrian

    This is an epic album. I liked I, I like Skaphe 2 even more. The review really captures the crushing nature of this music. It’s right up their with Aevangelist in my opinion. (Aevangelist is great music to listen to while in the dentist’s chair, on nitrous :) )

    • Roquentin

      You’ve reminded me that I have a dentist’s appointment next week. Forget about Skaphe, that’s real horror.

      • basenjibrian

        Gas makes it easier! Skaphe plus Nitrous..
        I am a total dental work sissy.
        Although I was told I had a failed tooth/crown so need a new crown. Even with insurance, %1000 U.S. :(

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Oooooo Aevangelist…

  • Westpaceagle

    The soundtrack to bad acid trip. Enveloping and deeply disturbing. Gives me that hollow feeling in my gut, then I can imagine that empty space getting filled up with black, gooey bad stuff. Review sums it up. I do appreciate the length of the tracks. No need to drag the horror out when you can just get your face ripped off in one straight pull. 4.0 – 4.5 range for me.

    • Roquentin

      35 minutes is just about right for this type of record. More than that and you risk losing impact.

  • McBasstard

    I was making dinner and playing the embedded song on my phone and my girlfriend came running out wondering what the hell I was listening to. “It sounded like this metal screeching”. Hah

  • Sharp-Blunt Boy

    Really enjoying the embedded stream – thanks for the heads up. To my mind, it has some similarities with the Oranssi Pazuzu sound (dense and chaotic with echo and reverb heavy guitars). It’s great that these guys realised their artistic vision with such great production job. Engaging stuff, and fills an avant guarde hole that OP unexpectedly left.

    • Roquentin

      Glad you enjoy it.
      Oranssi Pazuzu have altered their style quite a bit, I agree, but I still dig them in this new form.

  • Kryopsis

    This is one of the best reviews I’ve read on AMG in the past 3 months.

    The music itself sounds like I accidentally ended up with Locrian playing in two audio players at the same time with a minor overlap. I mean, I like it!

  • Dion Ka

    I survived Dodecahedron so i can survive is. Got the music and i’m curious to listen to it when i’m on my way back from work.

  • Tom Swinnen

    Wow. Shit. This album is intense. I love it. Perfect music for those hollow late nights when you’re not really doing anything but staring at some screen, working or reading or whatever.