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Don't judge a book by its cover. Many people's first reaction, looking at Skagos' latest album cover, would be to think we are on British soil, with such a title as Anarchic (God Saves the Queen!), and an overused illustration of William Blake (1757-1827), a British national artist. Based in British Columbia, Skagos has embraced various personal causes and received random or unexpected coverages, including MetalSucks.net's Completely Unreadable Band Logo of the Week.
Skagos is generally placed on the atmospheric black metal shelf, but on Anarchic we find it definitely on the far end of that shelf. The music is beyond black metal and post-black, being very progressive, or rather evolutive in its structure. At times, it definitely has some blast beats and raw guitar sound; but at other times we are visiting any genres but metal. Vocals in general vary between the thin death metal screams of Cynic and the clean post-black vocals of early Ulver - yet it incorporates a variety of choirs, clean singing, and a somewhat colourful palette of other techniques.
Released in different formats during the Winter, Anarchic was re-released by The Flenser on CD format in its full extended version. Previous to this album, Skagos has released another full length and a handful of EPs and Splits since 2007, including an excellent one with Panopticon. On Anarchic, the production is somewhat "cleaner": it has a lot more mid-hi and hi-ends, which gives it more definition, while retaining its characteristic mid-fi edge.
I can understand why there are different versions. Broken down into seven parts, Anarchic generally comes as a download into 2 or 3 blocks; these parts are more or less 'songs', but rather 'moments' knitted together into one long song.
In the beginning, it all starts with waves of chaotic but gentle guitar feedbacks and distant clean strings. Once the mood is set, it smoothly turns into a progressive intro where calm singing overlay some simple progressive guitars. ...Then, from the deep, gushes out the black metal.
This black metal borders post-black metal, or more closely what our southern neighbors have nicknamed "Cascadian black metal": it is fast, linear and repetitive, it incorporates some folk or acoustic guitar parts and can sometimes be simple in its execution, it is mostly mid-fi in its production, but very intense overall. At some point after the 12:30 bar, we can almost hear a Transylvanian Hunger reference, although we are on a totally different planet with Skagos. What I like about this band, and what differentiates it from other Cascadian black metal outfits, are the surprises that colour the music and bring us places we didn't expect, as natural as an invitation, and taking its time without forcing our hand.
The whole album flows with great ease. When the black metal part ends, like after a heavy Summer rain, we are left with clean or acoustic strings, a few atmospheric drops of electric guitars, scattered chants, and peaceful quietness. Comparisons could be drawn with Agalloch.
Back to the theme, the idea of anarchy is not innocent. On this release, anarchy speaks to chaos, the great Chaos that lies behind Creation. Depicting this relation, we have an image behind another on the cover; more specifically there is a picture of nature hidden behind Urizen, Blake's artistic reference to the divine Creator. It comes as no surprise that nature is also a recurrent theme used by folk and black metal, and part of this inspiration on the West Coast are the Cascades mountains, or Canadian Rockies beyond the Great White North border. The concept of Anarchic is rather powerful, and the music convinces us. The journey back to the origins of life itself is long, but Skagos is masterfully able to carry us along the way until we find it deep inside of us.
25-some minutes after it all started, when all drums and distortion fade out, we plunge deep into It, and we face It. An off-voice speaks to us, while speaking to itself: "It seems the World was born out of an injury; some great wound inflicted into something that was here before...". At this point we are all ears, as it continues deep down into its own reflections. When it dies, a trembling voice picks it up, singing strong, although fragile and plaintive at the same time, over an atmospheric background music. Beautiful as frailty, the solitary narrative thread moves the journey further.
From this point on, and for another long passage, we are no longer visiting the realms of black metal, not even post-black, and all tags become useless. We can feel the influences of British bands like Anathema, and the distant call of Pink Floyd. We are lost; but we are peaceful.
This first half of the album is followed by its journey back, equally beautiful and full of contrasts. Despite some lengths, Anarchic is one album that has to be experienced from start to finish, alone. It bears darkness and light at the same time, and has a perfect balance between chaos and serenity.
Skagos has this ability to transport us and to create waves of feelings. Their music is taking its time, and it doesn't bother with the concept of "songs". Their invitation is personal, and there is some form of sacred silence necessary to appreciate it fully. It has been a long time since I've experienced such an introspective album, one that plunges you deep into the core. For this I am in awe.
For fans of Panopticon, Ulver, Alda, and Agalloch.
[Originally written for theblackhull.blogspot.ca]