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Right from the very first moment – a deep horn sound echoing out for two whole minutes – Ast is a thoroughly captivating experience. Its five sprawling pieces desperately wish to be heard, ripping their listener from the relative mundanity of the outside world into their unstable realm of fantasy. The lyrics conjure stories of grand rituals and apocalyptic revelations, while the instrumentation itself evokes images of solitary forests being carefully explored and revealed with every note. This is clearly not the sort of music you leave on in the background while messing around on social media. Many other ‘atmospheric’ metal albums seem perfectly happy to let their music be a purely dormant entity, ready to be completely and reverently appreciated, but just as suitable as inconsequential background sound. By comparison, Ast is an album that not only demands its listener’s full attention, but almost seems to forcefully take it.
Skagos come from the oft-maligned Cascadian/hipster black metal scene. They’re clearly powerfully tied to that community; replacing the funereal bleakness and antisocial dirge of black metal’s old guard with sprawling compositions and ethereal melodies, but their music retains an essential sense of ‘metalness’ lost on many of their peers. There are occasional moments where the repetitive, hypnotic riffs sound like a slightly more idealistic version of Darkthrone’s classic material, and one occasion where clean vocals are used immediately brings Ulver’s Bergtatt to mind. Luckily, though, it’s far from creatively devoid worship towards the Norwegians; these few moments are nods to the past, as opposed to major stylistic informants. On Ast’s opening track, the vocals read, “The sky gives way to great storms / a deluge that deafens all / game trails run as raging torrents /and the end is fucking nigh! / The end is fucking nigh!” The likes of Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch wouldn’t be caught dead espousing such a bluntly rock ‘n’ roll sentiment.
In spite of all its apocalyptic leanings and its clear reverence for the classics, Ast does possess a characteristic almost entirely alien to traditional black metal; it is an unabashedly joyous album. Even the most accessible versions of the genre – the likes of Deafheaven, Cradle of Filth, Vreid, and Dissection are always a lot closer to melancholy and introspection than they are to the outright joy present on Ast. It’s far from an accessible album though. Skagos may be making thoroughly happy music, but they’re not about to let that happiness be cheap or shallow. The triumphant melody at the start of “The Drums Pound Every Night in a Glorious Celebration of Life” is the only significantly memorable moment until the 7 minute mark, at which point all the instrumentation momentarily subsides, leaving only a lone quiet chord progression, which itself slowly morphs and builds back into the song’s victorious conclusion. Moments like these are interspersed throughout the album, and are made all the more special by the subtlety and sparseness of their application.
Skagos’ compatriots feel the need to borrow from myriad other genres to create original art, twisting and reforming disparate influences into their own unique vision. There’s clearly nothing wrong with this approach, (And it’s yielded some pretty great music) but it certainly suggests that they see metal as a somewhat artistically complete form – as if the only way to innovate within it is to take from outside it. By comparison, Skagos seem perfectly happy to build something entirely unique out of largely pre-existing black metal parts. With Ast, they created an album that doubles back on its own inherent nature – reverent towards traditional black metal aims, but simultaneously transcendent of them.
At first listen this album might seem like just another West coast black metal album and I guess it definitely is but there is also definitely so much more being brought to the table through the atmosphere and the experimentation within this album. From the get go the first track builds up slowly to a frantic and majestic riff that pummels through the song invoking thoughts of old forests with primitive beings running circles around fires and then all of a sudden a break in the euphoric madness and what I can only describe as the most indie rock/folk piece of music ever heard in a black metal song begins. With warm sounding reverb-y guitars and the use of hand drums it sounds like something that could very well be used in the drummers relatively well known indie rock band Half Moon Run.
The album continues on with several ambient and soundscape kind of tracks that could serve as interludes between the longer "black metal" tracks. With the use of guitars and various electronics the tracks seem to roll over you like a dark but soft wave before gently coming to a close. The drumming is quite primitive on this album and almost could be considered sloppy at times but that adds to the primitive atmosphere of all the songs and the drums sound like some archaic tribal drum piece. Some of the fills that are used are downright awesome all throughout the album, all in the all the drumming is awesome. The guitar tone is another thing worthy of mention, it also has a very raw and "organic" sound to it. Listeners of the style will understand what I mean by that. With lyrics mainly dealing with the coming apocalypse due to our negligence and ignorance the message brought forth by the vocals serves almost as a warning of impending doom if our modern behaviors are not changed. My only problem that I might have with this album is the vocals themselves. I sometimes feel the method of delivering the lyrics doesn't seem to flow too well with the guitars and drums. They seem to be doing their own thing not with the pace of the song. This might also seem more noticeable due to the fact that I was reading the lyrics while listening to the album.
Otherwise, with seemingly an entirely unique and fresh sounding folky/indie rock breaks in all the major songs the album continues to always provide something new and unique while still retaining that strong apocalyptic black metal spirit. The album has plenty of interesting parts all throughout it and is definitely worth listening to all in one sitting. This album is highly recommended and is among the more unique albums available from the North American black metal scene!
That was a real discovery for me. I knew about Skagos absolutely nothing until I checked once the section "Similar Artists" on Wolves in the Throne Room page. I found the new group with great surprise. I always display some kind of scepticism towards the new bands, but these canadians had such a high rating, that I couldn't refrain from listening to it. I acquired the CD as fast as I could, expecting to hear something really great. At first "Ást" didn't live up to my expectations and I even wanted to give up and turn off the music, 'cause I was really bored. After the plain intro "Colossal Spell" came the second song. Ok, it was better, and I can confess that in the very beginning the song stired me up but for a few seconds. Unfortunately, then I heard just commonplace, but ,of course, beautiful atmospheric black and I decided to listen to "The Drums Pound Every Night in a Glorious Celebration of Life" to the end, but few minutes later I became bored and, really, I was going to switch off the music again, as suddenly something stopped me. I felt a drive, real drive that is so rare on contemporary black metal scene and after that nothing could force me to shut off "Ást". And I felt at last Skagos deeply and understood what they wanted to carry down to the listeners. I sat spellboundly in my chair until that masterpiece ended. And when I want to relax, I certainly turn on "Ást". My advice for those who doesn't know Skagos is just to wait for a couple of minutes and then you will immediately be lost in the ocean of pleasure 'til the very end.
The third song "Blossoms Will Sprout From the Carcass" is same to the previous by its woods' and mountains' beauty. And especially I want to speak about the forth track here. Called "...With a Warm Recollection", this track captivates the atmosphere and creates the relaxating northern mood by its acoustic greatness. In the middle of the song enters the violin and makes this short song (04:48) much more beautiful. The following atmospheric masterpiece is "Caliginosity" in which they sing, probably, about innermost, inner life, about social issues and dangers. So, not only the music on the album is great, lyrics are also intelligent. The closing song "A Night That Ends, As All Nights End, When the Sun Rises" is the praiseworthy finale for this "creation of genius", if I can say like that.
So, summing up, I can say that Skagos is high-quality atmospheric post-black with "well-done" drumwork and guitarwork. Often we can hear on "Ást" clean vocals, but that doesn't spoils this brilliant album at all, because that type of singing is very widespread in this BM sub-genre. Sometimes we can hear there rare blastbeats inherent in true black. The screaming is usual BM screaming but with some kind of anguish, probably, because of the frankness of the music. I noticed that they exerted themselves on this album, guys really sing wholeheartedly. They don't think about something else, while creating this beauty. They were just doing what they want.
Just give yourself the trouble to listen to "Ást" and you will not feel dissapointed of this release. I can announce that with the full confidence.
Some time ago, I had come to the point, when I got a little bored with raw BM, and began to look for something new and atmospheric, but still dark and brutal. I wondered, if there is something that can give this music some fresh taste, and eventually found Wolves In The Throne Room, which was a nice beginning of my adventure with ambient black metal. Liked it a lot, and searching further I have come across Skagos and their split from 2009, "The Groan of Ancient Pines". It did not meet my expectations, however the sound was interesting, and I decided to get familiar with their discography, beginning with their only longplay, "Ast". I do not regret.
There is an opinion, BM should remain the same as years ago, and it is not for black metal to evolve and to introduce synths, keyboards, acoustic stuff etc in it. Sometimes however, when well fitted into, this can create amazing atmosphere and enchant the music with a whiff of freshness. The "Ast" release of Skagos, is one of the examples. It's hard to find some words well-describing the atmosphere of an album, however I think ethereal and vernal would be good adjectives. Quite large range of themes can be found in here. Melodic but heavy riffs and growls interlacing with acoustic guitars and spring-like rhythms.
"Ast" consists of opening track "Colossal Spell", 3 main compositions (numbers 2, 3 and 5), instrumental "...With a Warm Recollection" in the middle (number 4), and the ending song. Colossal Spell is basically 3 minutes long silent drone-like track, and it does not say anything about what is about to come. Main songs are really solid and deliberated compositions, where every single sound is intentional and on the right place. Tracks are long- 10, 11 and 14 minutes, but they won't let you get bored changing speed, jumping from acoustic melodies straight into black metal madness, and vice versa. "...With a Warm Recollection" relaxing and instrumental song is sort of a break for the listener before the third main song hits. Everything ends with "A Night That Ends, As All Nights End, When the Sun Rises" which has a really nice and memorable acoustic part.
About vocals, they are nothing special, but fit well into music. Mostly it is muffled growls but also clear singing and choirs, in right moments. I did not understand too much when trying to catch some lyrics by ears, but on the other hand, it seems like lyrical themes are not so important in here.
As mentioned earlier, "Ast" wasn`t the first release of Skagos I had listened to, and honestly, didn't like the previous ones, so this stuff was a nice surprise to me when I said to myself "this is amazing!". I would recommend "Ast" to everyone who is looking for something new in a black metal scene. Really exciting music, taking a listener for a journey through the neverending gloomy forests, lakes and labyrinths of stones. Definitely worth listening.
I'll be honest. The first time I heard this album I turned it off after a few minutes. It seemed like just another generic black metal act with a few boring instrumental parts stuck in here and there. Recently after hearing people talk about how good they were I decided I'd give the album a second chance. Am I ever glad I did. These guys provide atmosphere like few other bands can while leaving room for moments of pounding aggression. If you don't like atmospheric metal stop reading now; this won't be your thing. Few bands can actually provoke vivid imagery in my head. This band hails from Vancouver Island, where I was working this summer. Listening to this album makes me feel like I'm back at the Cowichan river, surrounded by massive moss covered rocks and huge looming trees.
This album starts with an ethereal yet dark ambient track the flows seamlessly into the next track. When the metal kicks in, right away I notice the breathtaking dual guitar work. The rhythm guitar is deep, heavy and crushing. There is also atmospheric guitar work that provides an uplifting crescendo of melody. It is not unlike some parts of Agalloch's "Marrow of the Spirit". They are very calm and beautiful. It perfectly captures the feel of the forests of British Columbia. The raw primordial vocals are very powerful. They are the same rasping style typical of black metal, but there is some intangible trait about them that adds character to the songs. The drums are very raw and unpolished, which adds to the organic feel of the album. They are often very fast and cymbals are used quite frequently. The bass is almost inaudible, but that is not at all a bad thing because the album is perfect as it is. The timbres that this album displays is unlike anything I've ever heard before. It sounds very organic and rich. Like I said, it creates a very vivid image of a forest in my mind's eye.
This album bleeds authenticity. From the majestic opening riff in "The Drums Pound Every Night in a Glorious Celebration of Life" to the beautiful repeating melody of "Caliginosity", this album is flawless from beginning to end. I love the way the metal songs mix beauty with aggression in a way that seems completely natural. This band incorporates many different instruments including violins, folk guitar and tam tams. "...With a Warm Recollection" is perfection in a song. It starts out with an ambient drone and slowly it evolves as new instruments such as acoustic guitar and violin are added in. The violin in this song is serene and breathtakingly beautiful. All the other songs are amazing too. Even the nature inspired artwork and lyrics are exceptional. I can't find a single flaw in this album.
I can't stress enough the importance of listening to this album in its entirety. All the songs where recorded as one but cut up into parts for the listener's convenience. The songs flow really well together and listening to the entire album brings the listener on a musical journey. This band evokes imagery of a moss covered primordial forest untouched by the poisoning hand of man. These songs will take you to another world and keep you there for the remainder of the album.
It's not very often that I decide to write a review. I'd much rather read what other have written than put my own opinion out there, because quite frankly, I'd rather watch TV than put in the time to construct a review as most albums just aren't with the effort. However, every now and then you get a piece of work that is so good (or remarkably bad), that it demands a review be written, and let me tell you, Ást isn't good. It's absolutely amazing.
In a world where literally anyone can release a metal album, finding a strong record is tougher than week old French bread. Fortunately, there are a select few out there that still write and release music that is worth listening to. Unfortunately, they’ll never get the recognition they deserve, and it takes quite a bit of digging to find them. Nevertheless, dig I did, and this was the end result. I’m going to start off by saying it was around two-thirty in the morning when I first heard this album. I was sitting in my bed with my laptop, surfing through various metal-related websites, when I came across a link for this album. It was the band logo that stood out to me, because in my tired state, it made absolutely no sense. Regardless, it was reason enough to hit “download” and check it out.
Beginning with the slightly strange (but intensely cool) “Colossal Spell”, I was drawn into something. Just as with the first time I heard it, I’m still speechless as how to describe it. It eases your mind; clears it, preparing you for the initial rush of “The Drums Pound Every Night in a Glorious Celebration of Life”, which then fades into a beautifully done slower paced passage, allowing you to reflect on what you’ve just heard before hitting you again. At this point, you can hear everything that’s going on. The vocals have the harsh “black metal” edge to them, but they are able to maintain a slightly... melodic undertone. Where most albums have the vocals thrown on so they slowly give you a migraine, Skagos have found the midpoint. It’s completely appropriate for the style and songs, but it won’t drive a nail into your head. The guitars stand out the most to me. With the album’s production and atmosphere, they could not possibly sound better. Bass-heavy, contrary to the usual treble overloaded tone that I’ve become accustomed to from this genre. The bass may be somewhat inaudible (or plain non-existent, to me) but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, as my computer has been somewhat strange with the speaker channels as of late. Lastly are the drums, which fulfill their duty extremely well. They alternate from straightforward black metal blasting into slower beats, fitting the clear guitar tones very well. Not to say these are the only instruments involved in this collection of songs, but they are the main focus for the majority of the album. There are some interesting combinations found here, however, like the (what I’m assuming to be) bongos, and layer guitars on the album’s final track “A Night That Ends, As All Nights End, When the Sun Rises”. Actually, it’s incorrect to call this music. This is art perfected.
It’s not often that an album grabs you and takes you on a journey. In my sleepy state, I was most certainly whisked away, and carried into the forest by Skagos.
Do you ever listen to an album and after your first listen you feel like you know it really well? I find this happening to me when an album fills a void for me. Or completes a connection, and makes a next logical step in the progression of a certain marriage of styles or atmospheres. I feel familiar at these times because I feel familiar with what I want to happen, what I need a band to deliver. I always need it until I find it.
Whether you like them or not, Wolves in the Throne Room is making an influence. I'm not 100% confident saying that Skagos is hugely influenced by Wolves, but that Skagos takes many of the same elements and influences and has recorded the next logical step beyond that which Wolves in the Throne Room perfected.
Skagos has big riffs. Big, huge, churning, long, traveling kinda riffs, but they come in many different types. This album's charm though not uncommon, is the use of ebb and flow. Riffs drift and build and are harmonized upon and build rhythmically as the percussion also fantastically builds the repeating riffs until they soar and pick up tempo. All of the instrumentation is used magically to achieve this effect. Clean choral type vocals, bongos, acoustic guitar, killer bass playing, you name it, its all present and totally ruling. This band along with a growing number of cohorts (including Velnias) among the youthful genre employ a familiar style based on this technique: establishing a simple power chord or note that is often returned to and built off of for most of the song. For me this can be likened to the strong choral elements of the first Ulver album. This may not sound like anything all that original in black metal and I'm not saying it is extremely so, but I find its a strong tendency and a thing I like a lot about this album.
Overall "Ast" is an exciting mark of birth upon a genre that I hope I never get sick of. If the fact that Skagos' members just graduated high school in May is any indication, there is a bright future for these gents, though I'm afraid to report that after two forthcoming splits or so and a full length Skagos will cease to exist as reported on their page.
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’.
In days when metal is easier to make than chocolate chip cookies, and when music in general is getting far worse each day, I have little hope for the future of metal. But, my opinion has quickly changed since the start of the year. Shortly before the calendar change, Skagos released a split with Tomhet which quickly sparked my interest in them. Himmelszelt was a fine piece of music, so I was eager to listen to Ast when I heard of its completion. I wasn’t sure if it would be able to top the brilliance that came out of my stereo as I first listened to the split.
Ast wasn’t a let down at all. In fact, I was speechless after my first listen. The album starts off with Colossal Spell, which is a drone track that sets a solid foundation for what’s to come. The next song hits hard with melody which breaks off into an epic block that leaves the listener in a trance. Each song thereafter combines acoustic and electric guitar quite well. What also makes this album so special is that they bring back riffs from earlier tracks. The fourth track starts off very similar to Colossal Spell. Out from the filthy sludge fades in some beautifully composed acoustic guitars, with violin placed nicely on top. The main riff and idea in this song is the same as the ending riff in “The Drums Pound Every Night in a Glorious Celebration of Life”. It makes me feel like I’m listening to one long song, if I listen to Ast from start to end. Additionally, it’s refreshing to hear real drums! Too many bands use machines. I’m even guilty of this in my own projects. They aren’t just drums either; they’re very well produced and performed. The range in play is very surprising, taking the genre into consideration. The sound quality of Ast is great. Isaac and Ray worked very hard producing this. It’s superior to most home-recordings.
My favorite song on Ast is the closing one titled “A Night That Ends, As All Nights End, When the Sun Rises”. Ray and Isaac bring back the use of skin drums, as they did on Himmelszelt. They’re put behind an angelic formation of chords. By the time drums come in, there are three layers of guitar. All three are perfectly matched together. The harmony between them creates a very emotional atmosphere. It’s a song that one can really self-reflect during. I can’t help but rethink my life while listening to it. I feel nostalgia, depression, anxiety…and by the end, I feel at ease and consoled. There aren’t many songs that can make me feel this range of emotion. It’s definitely the best song on Ast.
In closing, the experience in listening to the album in full is breathtaking. It pulls out emotions that very few albums and bands manage to do, especially in this day in age. I can say with confidence that this will be the best release of 2009. I highly recommend you purchase it.