With metal now being a truly global force, one of the most exciting endeavors new bands can undertake is blending established sounds from all over the world to create something that may seem familiar at first, but ultimately feels fresh and interesting. Taking the listener on a journey through various black metal realms ranging from the atmospheric, the pagan, to some of the early pioneers of the genre, Skála have crafted an impressive debut album with The Secrecy.
Based on album opener “Penitency” alone, it would be easy to mistake Skála for any number of other post-Two Hunters atmospheric black metal bands; mid-tempo drumming, upper register trem-picked leads, a short break that consists simply of a distorted wall of chords, and a clean guitar section abruptly followed by furious blastbeats. The song is well-performed and composed in such a way that it captures the necessary ebb and flow of this type of black metal, but it could easily be a discarded track from the recording sessions of the aforementioned classic. Is this all the album has to offer? Thankfully Skála rise to the occasion and incorporate a number of other black metal influences as the album progresses.
When describing The Secrecy it’s necessary to give a chronological overview, as the first half draws from a much different well than the second. After the opener we’re treated to “Spirit,” whose folk-inspired melodic nature, subtle keyboards, and emphasis on rhythm are distinctly in the vein of Eastern European pagan black metal bands. This serves as an excellent bridge into the title track which also draws from Eastern European black metal traditions, albeit the more repetitive and atmospheric style. Whereas these bands might only have a couple of riffs and keep the same tempo for an entire song, Skála isn’t afraid to include a crushing doom metal riff and short guitar solo.
After visiting the atmospheric and pagan black metal worlds in the first half of the album, we come to the core of the act’s inspiration; Skála means “rock” in Czech, and Czech black metal pioneers are exactly who the foundations of The Secrecy‘s final three songs are based upon. Taking inspiration from bands such as Master’s Hammer these songs are more off-kilter, and abandon much of the atmospherics in favor of riffs that draw more heavily from doom. Some sections even have odd-numbered time signatures, the twisted heavy metal in the second half of “Bones of Stone” being a particular standout. Yet Skála doesn’t forget where the album started, and “Unmoor” closes the album with a triumphant tremolo picked, blastbeat-driven, shredding guitar solo finale.
One of the most impressive aspects of The Secrecy is the ease of transition between the various riffs and tempo changes, often accomplished with precise drum fills and short chord bursts. Awkward transitions might doom a black metal band with otherwise good riffs, but even in the weirder second half Skála doesn’t suffer from this problem. The guitar tone also helps to set the band apart from its peers; black metal is synonymous with an ice cold sound, but here there’s a warm fuzziness that evokes a midday autumn field as opposed to a frigid forest in moonlight.
With a plethora of influences that ensure a continually refreshing listening experience over the course of this debut album, Skála have proven themselves more than capable of standing out amongst a sea of atmospheric/pagan black metal artists. The Secrecy demonstrates not only the importance of acknowledging black metal roots but the need to rise above and beyond, to not simply retread the old paths.
The Secrecy will be available December 9 on Eternal Death. For more information on Skála, good luck beyond reading the above.