Skáphe (self-titled): powerfully hellish ambient BM psychedelia

Skáphe, self-titled, Fallen Empire Records, cassette (2014)

“Skáphe”, a Greek word meaning hollowed or scooped-out, seems an unusual name for a black metal band. That is, until you start Googling it and discover that the English derivative word “scaphism” describes an ancient Persian method of execution in which a condemned victim is stripped naked, hog-tied, slathered all over with milk and honey, and dumped into an empty boat on a pond exposed to hot sun. Over time, attracted by the smells, insects arrive and bite, sting and do more besides … the victim dies from exposure, dehydration, starvation and septic shock …

Our curiosity sated, we can give this self-titled debut album by the American one-BM outfit the once-over; glad to say, this recording is more rewarding and less excruciating than its namesake inspiration. Right away you notice the incredibly powerful and awesome sound, the frenzied pace and the sheer mania. Tremolo guitar chords all drenched over with reverb and percussion charge ahead at an insane speed and screaming vocals, coming just a little behind, almost reverberate so that an absolutely hellish ambience persists throughout the recording. This is sheer evil black metal psychedelia as it should be done.

Occasional moments arise when searing distorted BM guitar textures cease their torture, allowing clear space to intrude and the delirious clean guitar notes to dazzle briefly: the listener might glimpse the surrounding dark caverns and sense swirling invisible forces gathering their powers for another attack avalanche of acid BM string torture.

Skáphe isn’t a one-trick pony of all thundering slabs of discordant BM guitar torrent and little else besides – track 2, “Melancholic Ossuary”, is a more atmospheric and brooding doom-oriented piece with booming drone guitar and leaden percussion. By turns bleak, hopeless and weary, this monster piece is notable for its terrible doom ambience and the relative free-form nature of the music. As the album continues, the music becomes ever more ominous, despairing and hellish, and the vocals turn from frenzied and aggressive to anguished, desperate and crazed with fear at an awful fate. Bass guitar becomes a monstrous booming presence while tormented and tormenting lead guitar rings and echoes through the dark subterranean soundscapes, and percussion banging away at mixed speeds, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, adds to the general impression of mounting madness and delirium. The album concludes with an all-ambient drone darkspace piece that seems comparatively calm after all that’s preceded it.

A narrative that takes in straight-ahead black metal with psychedelic influences through doom to ambient and perhaps detailing what it might feel to suffer and die from torture anchors the entire recording. While this might suggest that the project has achieved all that it set out to do, I find myself hoping that Skáphe should continue as is, creating yet more hellish music. This is a truly frightening and monstrous example of malevolent BM soundtrack psychedelia and what it can do to listeners.

Contact: Fallen Empire Records

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