After generating some buzz with a strong self-titled debut in 2014, experimental black metal duo Skáphe hollowed out a place for itself on several 2016 year-end lists with its excellent follow-up, Skáphe². Succinct, surprising, and smothered in an echoing, faceless horror, the record was lauded for its damaged take on psychedelia and extreme metal.
Part of the album's success comes from founder Alex Poole (Chaos Moon, Krieg) recruiting his Martröð bandmate and Icelandic black metal scene mainstay D.G. (Misþyrming, Naðra) to handle vocals. While Poole honed in the alternate-universe terror of the instrumentals for maximum mindfuckery, D.G.'s impossible, ecstatic yowls sound trapped in a cell of their own making. Together, they're pretty perfect.
As D. G. explained via email, "Alex wanted me to do the vocals for this project because of my vocal work with Misþyrming, so I figured I would work in a similar way. But when it came to the actual recordings, I realized that in order to reach the same level as the instrumentals, my vocals had to sound completely insane. I closed myself off in the space where I had my recording equipment. I turned off the lights and listened repeatedly to the tracks at maximum volume, until I was in a sort of a trance where I felt I had become one with the music. That's when I was ready to do the vocals."
Now, Skáphe (pronounced "skah-fay") have a new EP out now on cassette and digital from Mystikaos, a new boutique label started by Poole with Wormlust's H.V. Lyngdal and distributed by Fallen Empire. The single 22-minute track, "VII," drops listeners into the middle of a bad mushroom trip, racing, lurching, and pummeling them to its unsettling conclusion.
I talked with Poole about the controlled chaos of Skáphe's sound, "abandoning ship" with Lyngdal to start their own label, and his method of taking drugs to take notes to make music to lose your mind to. Read our conversation, and listen to Untitled below.
Noisey: Where did this project come from for you? You've got a few other things going on. What drove you to do Skáphe?
Alex Poole: It kind of started on a whim. I'd been writing a lot for Krieg and Chaos Moon, and I was just dicking around with different sounds. I wrote the third song from the first album pretty much on accident, and I just kept going.
For me, it was writing something that was kind of abandoning guitar chords. Like, unlearning how to play and trying to create music based on not knowing how to create music. I wanted to explore horrible sounds but make them musical. Like, trying to get as close to absolute chaos without it losing its sensibility.
Were there bands or other ideas that pushed you to that, or did it just happen?
I don't necessarily say, "OK, I'm going to write this particular sound." I sit down and improvise, and then I categorize what goes where afterwards. If something doesn't sound like anything I've established already, it becomes a new thing, which is how Skáphe started.
For the second record, you worked with a different vocalist and you dropped the song titles. What happened between the two?
Initially, I had the idea of having a different vocalist on every track, but I found the style I wanted was very specific, and I would just get several people who sounded similar. I basically just sent D.G. an email, and it was pretty much an instant "yes." As for abandoning song titles, we had that idea just to give the album less of an ego.
Are there any lyrical concepts, or is this really more about sounds and atmosphere?
Since I mainly focus on music, I don't come up with concepts. Musically, I try to incorporate overall feelings. One that's pretty evident is, like, a really bad acid trip, which I've gone through, so I can push that into the music. I don't like to write on psychedelics, but I like to write on my experiences. These songs could basically be journal entries from psychedelic experiences in music form.
Any specific psychedelics? Do some lend themselves to different things better than others?
This past year I've been doing psilocybin mushrooms, and that was kind of my influence with the EP we're about to put out. Previously it's just been a mixture of mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, MDMA. The standard, I suppose.
Are you doing those as a way to come up with ideas or just experimenting and this happened as a result?
Kind of both. I have a strict view of certain psychedelics. I don't take LSD and go out to a party. I use them as tools. I've tried to write music on them, and it doesn't work. But I try to remember as much as I can by writing things down and making extreme mental notes.
What are you noting that you come back to?
Feelings, mainly. Certain trains of thought. For this new EP, I tried to structure it as the last trip. Originally it was split into different songs, but I wanted it to kind of flow as one piece as my trip. So there are a lot of parts that transition quickly, and that's what my experience was with this particular mushroom trip. When you get comfortable in a thought or feeling, things change on you. So certain parts groove a little bit, and then they will switch on a dime, and that's where I get that.
That makes sense after listening to the recording a bunch of times. It just keeps moving, and there are a lot of ideas happening and overlapping. In one spot there's no percussion, and it's kind of freeform, but you're still following a meter, it seems. You're not just totally free.
No, that's the thing. I've seen people who kind of write it off as improvised, but everything is very calculated. It doesn't make a lot of sense to a lot of people, but every note has its purpose. It's not just me plugging in my guitar and "going to town."
The production is such a huge part of the Skáphe sound. It all kind of comes from one source. You can hear drums and multiples guitars, but what all is going on in there?
There is a lot going on. With the album, I compressed everything together. If you were to hear a very clean mix, it would probably not have anywhere near the same effect.
The drums are all programmed by me, and there's a lead and a rhythm guitar and another that comes in and out. People say it's down-tuned, but it's not very low at all. With how intense everything sounds, it can give this impression of a guttural wall of nasty noise. I guess what I was going for worked.
How does collaborating with someone who is 3,000 miles away work?
With D.G., he got it right off the bat. I didn't really have to critique him or give him a certain direction. I sent him the album without the vocals, and he did everything perfect the first time around.
How much time have the two of you spent in a room playing together?
Zero. We have never met. But he may be doing vocals for our upcoming tour, if it pans out. So that would be pretty cool.
You're also working with with H.V. Lyngdal from Wormlust on this new label. You're not summering in Iceland or anything are you?
[Laughs] No, I've been working with Hafsteinn for three years now, and we've always been on the same page musically, so it was kind of natural for us to abandon ship and work within our own means and do what we want. We have a very specific style, and that's what we've catered this little label to.
What are your plans for Mystískaos beyond releases from Skáphe and Wormlust ?
Any project that falls within our stylistic guidelines will be released through this label. We have a lot of ideas that we'll reveal over time, but this is pretty much the end game for us. We're very serious about this label and have pretty much abandoned everything else except this for our projects.
Can you elaborate on your stylistic guidelines?
More experimental— the whole psychedelic vibe Skáphe and Wormlust have. It's also a tool for us to collaborate on boutique projects. We've been experimenting with a lot of different sounds and pushing the boundaries comfort-wise for us.
Eric Gallippo is psyched on Twitter.