Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Skagos - Ást. 94/100.

Canada is surely the unsung hero of modern black metal? Discussions on the best scene don’t tend to run long into the night as Germany, and their fellow European friends, tend to dominate the leader board, tipping the scale in favour of the Europeanised black metal market and pushing other scenes into the thickets of dense forests. Scandinavia was the scene that made black metal stand up and be heard and now, in the wake of its modern demise (for all intensive purposes), countries like Germany have raised the bar and expectations have limited the chances of bands from so-called “lesser” regions of the world. Unexplained mysteries like, “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make any sound?” can be likened to the situation of scenes pushed into the unenviable darkness as the European hand of dominance slams down and swipes away the trail of blood left from the devastated continents outside of the European borderlines. Bands outside of Europe don’t tend to fair as well in the market, unless they’re from North America, but even then, that particular scene has a poor reputation, certainly in comparison to its European counterpart who packs more punches than the glass jaw of America can handle.

Quietly, then suddenly, impacting bands make their arrival on the scene with no expectations and subsequently dazzle the surprised masses into a state of shock. Only European bands produce the sound of magnificence, surely? Canada, for a few years now, has a notable, but modest reputation within the scene. It is home to a few bands whom have left lasting impressions and individual legacy’s that will stretch into the metaphorical distance of time and stamp their influence on future bands, future scenes and future musicians alike. In recent years, acts such as Gris, which features perhaps the most accomplished black metal vocalist of all time - Icare - and the irrepressible Sombres Forêts, a particular favourite of mine, have emerged from behind the European manufactured screen and have stormed into the lives of fans worldwide, disrupting the harmony amongst the European legions which had become a tad cocky amidst their total domination. With the merging of these two greats into the soon-to-be unstoppable force of Miserere Luminis, the Canadian scene has much to look forward to and not only does it feature this highly rated (and for good reason) black metal bands, it has notably strong roots with acts like Monarque and now this band, Skagos, leading a combined charge in the face of the enemy.

Of course, for us fans, we can rest easy and watch as these strong willed scenes compete for glory. We’re the eventual winners as more and more talent streams out of the established bases. Unless you’re “down” with the modernisation of black metal, then you’re going to be left in the cold. Bands like Skagos are influenced by noteworthy acts such as Wolves in the Throne Room. These types of bands have much success, but oddly, limited appeal. They feature under the “marmite prophecy” which suggests that you’re either going to love, or hate what you’re going to hear from bands such as these. Skagos are a clear product of the modernisation of black metal. There may be a few ties to traditional aspects but, for the most part, these ties can be cleanly cut loose at any given moment and without warning. Skagos are, inevitably, going to challenge the perceptions on what constitutes as black metal and what should be viewed as a derogatory development of the scene which has brainwashed many into believing that the 1990’s were the be-all and end-all of the black metal philosophy. If this band passes the stern test that the majority of fans lay down for bands nowadays, they’re going to have a field day reaping the rewards of their experimental and innovative methods.

Bands like this are established to challenge our beliefs and with it, establish new and sacred techniques that are passable as experimentation and a viable option for future bands whom wish to base their music around the influence of this band. Alongside the recent records of Gris and Sombres Forêts, in particular, Skagos’ debut is a deliberate and forceful record aimed at pushing the boundaries of the scene and seeing how far they can stretch the limitations that supposedly rule the black metal scene. ‘Ást’ is one of those creations you can liken to almost anything but, at the same time, it is unlike anything you have ever heard given its strange mystical aura that wanders in and around the atmospherics like a caged animal, trapped and howling. Brave black metal is not without its faults, but admiration is certainly applied to the sounds of these bands that aim to create a slight twist on old methods in a new age. In years to come, I assume that records like ‘Ást’ will be considered defining moments in the history of the genre. Comparisons have been made to newly enforced acts such as Altar of Plagues and well established bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, but Skagos are an entity all to themselves.

‘Ást’ takes smidges of folk inspired ramblings by late-and-great black metal acts like Ulver and simultaneously merges them with the acquired taste of atmospheric, nature inspired bands like Wolves in the Throne Room. This record uses a number of varied techniques to assemble the messages of the lyrical themes from words to glorified sounds and despite small hindrances, such as the questionable vocals, the conclusions come together like the perfection of the transition from night to day, or day to night as the sunset, or sunrise lights up the sky with an array of beautiful colours and reflective cloud patterns. The beauty of such a natural occurrence can be likened to the instrumentation on this piece as moody acoustics are followed by even moodier tremolo based riffs. The production, whilst allowing the guitars to exist as a hollow emotional form when played at a fast, repetitive rate, are arms of fog, which wrap their dense and moist atmospherics around us like a gentle, but passionate hug filled with both anger and warmth. The subtle folk elements provide the said warmth, and our old friend, the black metal maestro provides us with a bleak outlook as the repetition sets in and harsh, distant tones close in on us like an oncoming storm of emotions.

My main problem is with the vocals. Compared to vocalists like Annatar, or Icare, Hawes and Symons don’t stand up well, but in terms of the record, they exist in an acceptable form resembling the Wolves in the Throne Room vocalist on ‘Two Hunters’ down to the last note. The harsh dissonance of the rasps suit’s the style, but the vocals aren’t as impacting as one would hope, especially in conjuration with the impacting instrumentation with which my laptop struggles to contain from spilling over and into my world. This emotional record is superb as an experimental entity. It flitters between influences and keeps things fresh, despite relying on elements of instrumentation like repetition on occasions. The Wolves in the Throne Room comparison is bound to throw some people off and cause them to neglect this piece, but for those of you who do allow this into your world, you probably won’t regret it. One of the best from 2009. Notable highlights include the immense ‘Caliginosity’ and ‘The Drums Pound Every Night in a Glorious Celebration of Life’.

No comments:

Post a Comment