Genre: Black Metal
Label: Fallen Empire
Skáphe inhabits a strange sonic space. Their sound manifests as a sort of abyssic yawp, a fading bellow, traces of which can be heard reverberating through atonal frequencies and drawn-out atmospherics. Yet for all the atonality, there’s a strange order to the music, as if each note and chord was placed with deliberate intent. This is almost entirely due to the work of mastermind and guitarist AP, whose riffs spiral ever downward, hanging in the purgatory between distortion and dissonance as vocalist DG howls incantations into the whirlwind. Within the gloom, warped grooves make their way in and out of prominence – halfway through “III”, the cavernous production pulls away slightly to reveal a driving kick drum while AP’s guitar slowly bends itself out of shape. The end result is esoteric, but also captivating, as the strange frequencies grasp at the ears and refuse to let go.
Naturally, there is little in the way of sonic variation, and for six tracks and just short of 40 minutes, Skáphe unleashes a disorienting wave of black metal that is uncompromising in its dedication to unraveling the mysteries of a strangled consciousness. There’s a heady aspect to these tracks, and it’s more apt to describe Skáphe² as introspective rather than atmospheric. The production also sets Skáphe apart from other “atmospheric” black metal acts. The instruments sound as if they’re alone in a vast, empty space, a desolate void that swallows up the sound waves and dissolves them into nothingness. Each note makes its mark and then fades into the abyss, with just the right amount of reverb to provide a faint echo that adds to the asphyxiating darkness. This gives each passage a sort of sonic shadow that lurks just behind each riff, and causes the sound to spread into tiny nooks and crannies, occupying the full auditory space even as it marches ever downward. This is best realized on “V”, where DG’s growls convey a strange vulnerability – a weird characteristic for any black metal vocalist, yet the quality fits the music perfectly. These are not vocals that stem from strength, hatred, or valor. Instead, they stem from desolation, the last vestiges of a mind at the edge of the Void, shouting into the depths and giving voice to the terror that results when confronted with utter loss of hope.
This may give the impression that Skáphe² is rather unfocused. It’s here that the record’s relatively brief length works in its favor, as each track never meanders for longer than is necessary. When the oppressive gloom lifts slightly, such as at the beginning of “VI”, it doesn’t feel like a respite so much as it does an undeserved rest, a bewildering pause where you’re left to consider what it is you’re listening to and why you’re so enthralled by it. Skáphe² is filled with moments like these, where the veil of mystery is lifted ever so slightly, causing you to wonder if this is what it’s like to experience madness. If it is, then Skáphe² is a welcome fate.