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Himmelszet showcases the talents of two experimental black metal bands. Skagos is a Cascadian black metal band hailing from Canada's Vancouver Island. Their image and vibe is heavily entrenched in nature. Tomhet is a one man ambient black metal band. Originally from Canada, Tomhet has relocated to Canyon Country in California. The talent both of these bands display is nothing to scoff at. Whether it be Skagos's primal atmospheres or Tomhet's chilling ambiance, the music is authentic and engrossing.
While Skagos's performance doesn't quite reach the soaring highs they later reached on their debut full length, they come very close. Few bands display such a rich atmosphere as Skagos does. With Skagos's music, everything has its place, everything is there for a reason. Their experimentation always has purpose. Their music ebbs and flows in a completely organic and natural manner; nothing seems forced. Skagos's music ranges from ferociously aggressive to calm and subtle. While both sides of Skagos are apparent on Himmelszet, their calm side is what really shines through on this release. Besides the typical metal instruments, acoustic guitars and tribal drums are used. Their amazing ability to create unique soundscapes draws the listener into an ancient primordial world. Their music evokes images of an old-growth moss covered forest, unsoiled by mankind.
With Skagos's "Apotheosis (and Lo, the Gate of Himmelszelt)", the listener is treated to an emotion-filled build up and release. Skagos's ability to go from a subtle melody played over acoustic chords to pounding drums and distorted electric guitar in a matter of seconds, and make it sound completely natural, is astounding. "Procession" is a behemoth of a song. Rather than mindlessly rasp over a few recycled tremolo riffs with a drum machine plodding away in the background, as some black metal bands choose to do, Skagos creates a musical journey. As usual for the band, the song does not conform to any preconceived conventions, and certainly does not adhere to the verse-chorus formula. The song builds up and climaxes multiple times, doing it differently every time. At the end of song, there is a point that may be the highlight of the album. After a very pleasing acoustic section, they break out into tremolo riffs. But instead of tortured wails, Skagos shows that they can also use clean vocals effectively. The song ends in what appears to be a field recording of the Ocean. "Orthodox Painted with the Ash of Pine" is a melodic black metal song interspersed with breathtaking atmospheric sections. At the end of this song, Ray Hawes shows that he is no hack on the bass, playing subtly along with the acoustic guitar. Skagos gets 99 out of 100 for their captivating vision.
Tomhet's side of the split consists mostly of ambient, with the brief interruption of
a black metal song. Tomhet's ambient is simple and effective. It is not convoluted, and a natural atmosphere is allowed to progress. This side starts out with the short and calming "Epoch." The next song, "Journey through a Frozen Forest", is really a shame. Without it, this split would have been perfect from start to finish. This song wavers between two parts. There is no problem with the first part; it actually is quite good. A memorable menacing riff is played over a furious double bass drum section. Its the second part that is the problem. The guitar gets pushed to the side as an annoying repetitive drum beat takes over. The vocals sound like a pig being slaughtered by a chain saw. It all seems like a very weak attempt at sounding like Anaal Nathrakh. While the song isn't completely bad, it is not up to par with the rest of the album.
Tomhet's next track, "Desolate Palace", is a very discordant dark ambient song. While it is certainly not for everyone, it is hard to deny that it is very good for what it is. While it is easy to write off as directionless noise, further listening will prove that the track contains a unique atmosphere and there is method to the chaos. "Gelid" sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. It draws the listener into a cold and detached atmosphere. It almost feels like being stranded alone in space, with nothing but coldness and darkness to keep you company. "Descension (and thus Solitude)" is a worthy way to end the split. It is hard to find other ambient songs that match this one in quality. It is simple, yet amazing. The impeccable atmosphere found in this song is unparalleled by the mass of uninspired ambient projects that have recently sprouted up. Tomhet gets 94 out of 100 for their otherworldly atmospheres. This number would be 98, if not for the black metal mishap.
Many things could go wrong with a split. The two band's sounds could clash, resulting in a baffling listening experience. One band could be good and one bad, resulting in a lopsided split. Fortunately, Himmelszelt suffers no such fate. Although there is the agitating spastic section in Tomhet's black metal song, this does not last long and is minor enough to overlook. Many bands save their good material for full lengths, and put the leftovers on splits. Both of these bands have the integrity to not make a pointless release plagued with filler. Himmelszelt is an intriguing offering from two bands that are pushing past the boundaries and creating compelling music.
Splits, more so than other release types, tend to be a riskier method of releasing material; If the music of one party does not complement the other, it more often than not shipwrecks. Worse, if the bands are not more or less equal in technique and creativity, it drags down the overall quality of the listen and leaves the listener with an overall lesser impression than if the bands had released their material in, say, two separate EPs. And finally, when a band uses previously recorded and released material in lieu of writing new songs for said split, it tends to be seen as a mere attempt at a cash grab and/or unwillingness to come up with something new. However, this split cassette is far from a failure; in fact, quite the opposite. Both bands have something of their own vision to contribute, unique yet complementary.
This is Skagos' second release to date, following their extremely limited demo tape from 2007. For a fledgling band, Skagos' material is surprisingly excellent, surpassing, in my humble opinion, some of the bands who they cite as influences. Their side of the split consists of three songs, clocking in just past thirty minutes. The first few minutes of the first track, Apotheosis, is a taste of things to come. The opening riff is in the vein of Drudkh's Anti-Urban EP, but with more of the sorrowful feel to it. The second track, Precession, is a tempest of sheer emotive force, starting off with a quiet acoustic passage with an almost post-rock feel to it. Following that short introduction, the drums and distortion kick in, along with some harsh dual vocal work. In addition to the shrieks, the members prove that they are also able to sing very well; A comparison to Cosmocrator (of Windir fame) would not be an exaggeration in this case. The final track, Orthodox Painted with the Ash of Pine, is an onslaught that would get even the toughest critic banging his head were it performed live. An acoustic part, complete with tam-tam (I believe?) in the middle of the song gives the listener some room to breathe. The latter half of the song reminds me quite a bit of the last six minutes of "I will lay down my bones..." by Wolves in the Throne Room, until a solo kicks in; this caught me by pleasantly by surprise, as black metal is usually sadly lacking in that department. The track dies off with another acoustic passage. The listen is made even more interesting by the amount of different instruments taking part: the aforementioned tam-tam, some sort of chime in the second track, clapping in the third, etc. The production is very murky, which in this case helps rather than hinders the atmosphere the band is evoking; to imagine these tracks with a strong clear production is nigh to unthinkable. If we are to make further comparisons, Skagos sounds like a cross between Arckanum, Wolves in the Throne Room, Drudkh and a dash of Red Sparrowes, but perhaps that's over analyzing something that shouldn't be. The musicianship has improved since the demo tape and each song flows into the next very well, whereas the tracks on the demo felt somewhat disjointed. I am eager to see - and hear - what this band does next. 96%
The second band on this split is Tomhet, originally from Canada, now relocated to California. This is Tomhet's ninth release to date and contains five songs, which cover the last thirty minutes of the tape. The single black metal track on this side of the split, Journey through the Frozen Forest, is highly reminiscent of acts such as Crebain and also makes use of a drum machine, but a fairly good sounding one, which means it doesn't impede the track by any means. The guitar is fuzzy, the riffs repetitive, the vocals similar to Ancalagon of Crebain, but more aggressive in my opinion. A solid song, but one that could get boring if it had been drawn out longer than its three minute length. The other four tracks are pure, minimalistic ambient. Sometimes majestic, sometimes cryptic, at all times cold; if you are familiar with Northaunt, Svartsinn or Kammarheit, all of which are reputable nordic ambient projects, you know what to expect. Each track is a journey into solitary, wind-blown, wintry realms, much like the prairies in the cold months that Jon left behind. There isn't much one can say about ambient due to its nature; however, any fan of ambient BM should enjoy this to a fair degree. Having listened to a good amount of Tomhet's discography, I must say that dark ambient song composition is the aspect in which Jon has most improved. The only change I would have made would have been to move the black metal track either to the end of the split, or simply to remove it entirely, as it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the songs and interrupts the flow somewhat. This side of the split is not recommended for anyone who has a hard time with ambient sound, as it would bore or frustrate you. However, if you are not one of these people, you ought to do just fine. 89%
For a pair of bands which are still in their evolutionary phases, these two have done very well for themselves. Having followed each band for about a year and a half, I have seen the musicianship, skill, and creativity of each improve greatly. When they have fully matured and completely dedicated themselves to a particular direction, these two bands will be forces to recon with. I anticipate great things for Tomhet and Skagos.