Skythala – Boreal Despair (Review)

Skythala - Boreal DespairThis is the debut album from US black metal band Skythala.

Boreal Dispair offers discerning listeners 57 minutes of avant-garde black metal, which is a really simplistic way of describing a work that’s the complete opposite of simple.

The promo blurb states that this is “a strange and exciting combination of black metal, death metal and Russian neoclassical music, especially that of Igor Stravinsky”; as I’m unfamiliar with the latter part of Skythala’s influences, I’ll just have to take this as a given. However, it also states that this is for fans of bands like Gorguts, Krallice, Haunter, and Cosmic Putrefaction, which should give you a idea of what to expect on Boreal Despair. To this I’ll also add Imperial Triumphant, Hecate Enthroned, Pyrrhon, Limbonic Art, and Mare Cognitum, all of which entered my mind at one point or another during this.

Skythala’s music takes in elements of the dissonant, experimental, technical, symphonic, and progressive strains of black and death metal, fusing these together into a creative avant-garde approach. You might be thinking that the above is a lot of different styles to use to describe one album, and you’d be right, but Skythala pick and choose only the most select parts of these influences, using them as master crafted materials for their individual and expressive music.

The songs on Boreal Despair are involved and intricate, and it’s clear very early on that Skythala are extremely talented. There’s a level of technicality here that’s absent from most black metal, yet this simply facilitates the blending of a range of influences into atypical explorations of blackened extreme metal.

Skythala’s use of their symphonic assets is non-standard, and it is great to hear a band offering a fresh perspective on a very old style. Second wave worship this is not, although there are certainly remnants of the style here. Instead, Skythala offer us an idiosyncratic and personalised vision of multifaceted blackened music.

These songs provide a lot of content, and there is much to explore. The musical landscape they inhabit is rich and vibrant, and never seems entirely the same no matter how many times you visit it. A plethora of orchestral embellishments cascade at the same time as winding riffs and piercing melodies, while the high pitched screams are surely completely inhuman. There is a lot going on here, and it truly requires multiple spins to properly get a handle on, but the band’s songwriting skill and delivery is such that they make it a joy to explore deeper and deeper each time.

Boreal Despair is a superior album of extreme metal. Its blackened contours have been well-crafted by Skythala, and it’s a joy to get to know its mysterious ways.

Essential listening for fans of expressive and individual extreme metal.

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