Written by: Izzy
It’s time for Sleeping Village trivia hour again. I’ve mentioned this on occasion, but let it be known: I think Iceland has the best current black metal scene. Every year there seems to be a new album coming from over there that blows my mind with their love of claustrophobic yet hypnotizing harmony and low commanding growls rather than icy shrill shrieks. While I do have a soft spot for Poland and Sweden as well, Iceland is where it’s at.
So, you’d expect me to have been all over this band by now, right? Well, I listened to their collaborative release with Wormlust last year and thought that was good, but I never listened to their solo stuff until around a month ago when their third album, fittingly named Skáphe³, was suddenly the latest talking point around all my black metal loving friends, so I listened to it and well…holy shit.
This is 2020s best black metal album and I honestly cannot realistically see anything topping it for me. Sorry Revenge, sorry Axis of Light, and a huge sorry to Serpent Column, but this album knocked my socks off and then proceeded to knock every other article of clothing I was wearing off as well. It was so good that I listened to the entire rest of the band’s solo discography, on that same day. Skáphe jumped from a band I had listened to one collaborative project by and thought were pretty good, to one of my favourite black metal bands overnight. They’ve had a flawless output from day one it seems; every single release by them left me utterly aghast.
Their self-titled debut was the closest they got to a “normal” black metal album: raw and cold, but still with Iceland’s fondness for weird and psychedelic soundscapes. Still angular and manic as always, but with a more traditional wailing scream, Skáphe² was even more deranged, keeping its ferocity of pounding drums and vile guitar work while subtly blending in more melody, as well as shifting to a more gruff and throaty growl, even their Untitled EP, which features only a single 22 minute track, was phenomenal, slow and plodding, but no less twisted and dark. Where was this band all my life?
Well, now that I’ve gotten that fangirling out of my system, what does this American/Icelandic duo known as Skáphe offer to justify such a bold claim as “2020s best black metal album?"
Skáphe³ is just so brilliantly composed. Swathes of atmospheric yet uncompromisingly vicious and discordant riffs constantly wash over you. An ominous melodically conscious tinge shines through the otherwise dissonant and asphyxiating complexity. Rhythmic yet unhinged drumming creating a tribalistic drive throughout that keeps you transfixed on their knack for mesmerizing grooves. Every track seamlessly flows into the next, only further pushing that feeling that this album is one long song split up into sections. In short, it checks all my boxes. This is an album made to be listened to as a complete artistic vision, and while sometimes that may make lesser artists flounder, Skáphe’s vision is (forgive me for making this pun) clearly 20/20, because every single second of this album feels fully realized with a clear and powerful intent. It is consistently harrowing and merciless without fear to slow down and give you a chance to breathe before dragging you back down into its depths.
I cannot stress enough how much you need to listen to this album if you haven’t heard it already, since I have no reservations calling it a masterpiece either, and especially considering this style of “dissonant black metal”--“avant-black," “DSO worship," whatever you prefer to call it--has without a doubt been getting more and more popular year by year, I don’t think it would be a stretch to call bands like Skáphe the future of black metal.
Skáphe - Skáphe³ was released Sept. 30th, 2020 from Mystískaos
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!