Friday, December 9, 2011

Skaur - Skaur (2011)

if you are looking for a Norwegian black metal album to keep your frozen heart suitably chilled, Skaur may give you a shock. Sure, this four piece are a blackened outfit. There is no arguing that. But beyond that, they create an interesting blend of melody and instrumental mastery that few have managed to achieve before. This isn't shoegaze, or atmospheric in any way. This is melodic black metal, from the home of the genre itself. And it may be time to see it through.

In the opening riffs of "Fullmaanesang," you have your eyes opened to the varied elements that will be occupying your ears. What may start as a standard black metal track quickly evolves into much more. The use of acoustic guitars adds melody to the mix, showing that this is more than just a one dimensional approach. Don't misunderstand me, the vocals are pure evil, screeching hate. But the melodies used throughout, whether they be distorted or clean, are refreshing. This is a more well rounded approach, highlighted by a bass line that stands out from the background, especially in the latter stages, where it leads a melodic portion. The soothing vocals and clean guitar work bring to mind the work of Alcest, but only in short bursts. There is no mistaking the heavy riffs of Skaur with any melodic band.

The combination of melody and heavy riffs continues into "Nordnorsk Svartmetall," which boasts some catchy guitar work, both in tempo and tone. This is where Skaur make a mark for themselves. The bass lines are clean and crisp, and even with a blistering drum attack, there is a sense of calm, if only for a moment. Contained in this nearly eleven minute track is a dynamic shift from melodic to savage, and back again. Sure, each side borrows from the other at times, but the clear cut heavy and heavenly sections are perfectly paired. The vocals are just plain abusive, from the screams to the screeching cries. Time seems to pass so quickly, nearly flying by your eyes with each passage. Just after the midway point is a clean section that will have you sitting back in your chair. Clean guitar, and a trio of voices, one clean, the others gritty, slow the tempo and deliver a stunning interlude. Moments like these give you a glimpse into what could be the future of the black metal genre, before throw you head first back into tradition.

The riffs and rage keep coming at a torturous pace, beginning with "Heimfar." Once again, the bass work stands out, giving us a low end that is so often forgotten in blackened styles. The more detail oriented guitar work also gets a chance to shine, but this is definitely a thrasher. The distortion is relentless, and the drumming is intensely destructive. The double bass pedaling that inhabits a good chunk of the track gives a well deserved hand. The vicious nature of the vocals, by now, is not in question. But the possibility of something even heavier emerges on "Om Sorg Og Helvete." A devilish scream leads the charge, with off timed snare hits being paired with echoing chords. Even some lower growls are displayed, with machine gun snares backing the barrage. The true identity of the track doesn't come forward until later, with a stunning melodic passage catching your ear. This is the true beauty of the progressive nature that Skaur embodies. They have the ability to do it all, and this lone five minute chunk is proof of that.

The title track to the self titled album, "Skaur," sees a variety of tempo changes and musical directions, but all with roots in the traditions of black metal. Dueling vocals are layered on top of rapid drum fills, with a screech and growl mentality growing into a two headed monster of heavy vocals. Take that beast and set it atop a mountain of distorted guitars, and you have a winner. Offset that with clean guitar work that can only be described as "enchanting," and you have something else entirely. In this track, beauty meets the beast, and they morph into one. And while it may alienate fans of true to form black metal, it is sure to garner the attention and admiration of the next generation of fans. The album ends with the track "Midnattsol," which is not to be confused with the female fronted band of the same name. Acoustic guitar tones and a light bass line are all you need to start with, and they are played to perfection. Free from the constraints of vocals, this one is a means to an end, a solemn walk down the path. A final strum fades away.

The genre of black metal is occupied by some of the most cantankerous people you will ever talk to. many of them are so set in what they believe the genre truly means, that they refuse to embrace change. And while we at Sorrow Eternal fully support the roots and beginnings of black metal, we also look to the future. And, after listening to this endeavor, Skaur may well have a hand in where things go from here. One dimensional scream tracks have no place on this album, something that we can appreciate. This could be the new wave of melodic black metal.


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