Drums pound, a voice barks and walls of guitar rise and crumble. This is the music of the forest in autumn, beautiful in its decay.
This is Ást by Skagos, an album whose very existence is storied. Originally released in 2009 on cassette, then later on CD, a vinyl release between the labels Eternal Warfare, Noxious Noize! and Pesanta Urfolk was then planned, but after years of no news, its future seemed doubtful. While Pesanta was slated to make the record, cracked master lathes and even a fire in the pressing plant delayed the product, pushing the release back further still. To some, it seemed the record was cursed, but no longer — as of the first week of September, Ást has been birthed anew.
Skagos hails from Courtenay, a town just a few hours north of Victoria. One can immediately hear the influence the environment has on the band. The rain, the clouds, the fog and the vastness of both the land and sea are all sonically present in the music.
Ray Hawes and Isaac Symonds, two high school friends, formed the band in 2007. After recording some obscure demos and a split album, they released their first full-length, Ást, which is now considered one of the defining albums in the sub-genre of Cascadian black metal. Skagos draws inspiration from many artists; from Norwegian black metal originals Burzum, to modern-day post-rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Lyrically, the band is steeped in the work of Fredy Perlman and his book Against His-story, Against Leviathan!, although one can also find references to George R.R. Martin and H.P. Lovecraft in Skagos’s words.
This album has been with me for years now. It has become a musical reference point. I can’t think of higher praise than the simple truth: it is one of those records that, if you let it, will become a part of you.
Ást chronicles the cycle of summer to winter — from the last summer storms in “The Drums Pound Every Night in a Glorious Celebration of Life” to the crippling cold of deep winter in “Calignosity.” Both the music and lyrics mirror this theme. The album begins regally, a celebration of the bounties of summer; becomes gloomy and repetitive as are the rainy days of autumn; pauses briefly to remember the warmth of the past but continues to become more and more oppressive, until it ends with a glimmer of hope, the dream of spring to come, in “A Night that Ends, As All Nights End, When the Sun Rises.” But the lyrics are two-sided. It is not merely the cycle of seasons described; it is the state of humanity as well. Our summer has ended, and we are now deep in our own winter, perhaps to awaken once again if spring should come.
The upgrades to the album include new cover and jacket paintings, a new master and a gorgeous etching of the cover art on side D of the vinyl (the album is a double LP). It can be ordered from the band or found locally in Black Raven Records and Cavity Curiosity Shop.
As this year’s long summer finally fades, Ást is born once more to bring warmth to the winter to come.