Deaf Center: Low Distance (LP, Sonic Pieces, March 2019)

Previously, on “dogrando writes about some records”… Eight (8!!!) years ago, Deaf Center’s Owl Splinters was a pretty big deal in these parts. It had some fine examples of the kind of close-miked solo piano sound that was very popular back then, and some excellently spiky string numbers, and helped to define a distinctive movement in music (for me, at least). Since then, I’ve enjoyed a few releases by Otto A Totland and Erik K Skodvin individually, but this is their first proper album as a duo in that time. (There was the 2014 mini-album Recount, which I passed on for reasons I now forget.)

Things have changed a bit in that interval. For one thing, that close-miked solo piano sound got kind of played out a while back, and while there is plenty of piano here, it’s always in combination with other elements. To my ear, this is Deaf Center’s most sinister release yet (although some of Skodvin’s Svarte Greiner stuff gives it a run for its money). Somehow, the intimacy of the piano (which I last encountered on Totland’s 2014 album Pinô) seems to enhance the strangeness of the tortured strings and the atmospherics. Or else, the ominous rumblings add an edge and a power to the piano (check out the end of Gathering, say).

All of which is a pretty long way of saying: if you like music that lurks in that space between dark ambient and modern classical, you should love this, because it’s great… but, then, I mean, duh: it’s a Deaf Center record, and a good one, you didn’t need me to tell you that.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Ambient / Drone.

Svarte Greiner: Moss Garden (LP, Miasmah, November 2016)

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Erik K Skodvin out of Deaf Center. The last release I bought (although there’ve been a couple I’ve missed) under the Svarte Greiner alias was Kappe way back in 2009 (before I’d started this blog). I’m happy to report, though, that this is stunningly good. The A-side, The Marble, starts out as a sort of dark, drone, ambient, full of slow doom-laden cello semi-melodies and atmospheric clicking and clanking noises. And then about halfway through this… noise appears, it’s hard to describe, it’s sort of halfway between a buzzing and a fluttering, and it sort of jumps out of the mix and then gets sucked back in like some sort of insectine monster trying to break through a membrane from another world, or something. And then there’s this otherworldly shimmering noise, and — well, I’m not going to try and describe it sound-by-sound, but it’s amazing. The B-side, Garden, goes big on the spacious, resonant clangs and chimes and is also amazing. This is intensely atmospheric without ever being melodramatic, it’s sparse without being spartan, and it breaks significant new ground in a territory which I though I knew quite well. A controlled and powerful masterpiece.

I bought this from A Number Of Small Things.

Prurient: Frozen Niagara Falls (2CD, Profound Lore, May 2015)

The “thrilling ten minutes of proper dark industrial techno awesomeness” which is You Show Great Spirit, from the three-track Through The Window on Blackest Ever Black, was my standalone track of 2013. My quibble with that records was that the title track, basically making one noise (albeit a very awesome one) for almost 18 minutes, slightly outstayed its welcome.

Well, this double CD (also available on triple LP) can’t be accused of monotony. In fact, if it has a flaw, it’s that it crams in too many ideas: its ninety-something minutes are densely packed and it’s a helluva lot to take in. I think this is is probably deliberate, that it wants to simply overwhelm the listener, and frankly (with me) it succeeds. In an effort to tame it, I took track-by-track notes. I started well, recording things like a “Stadium synth riff, thumping sounds, misc. crashing and wailing noises; distorted death metal vocals which take some to to register as even human; squealing later” (Myth Of Building Bridges). I noted the contrast between a “Roaring over a pounding beat” with a “Guitar line that sounds a bit like an ’80s soft metal band, I think maybe Heart” (Dragonflies To Sew You Up) and the quiet interlude featuring “Interplay of heavily flanged synth noises, more squealing” (A Sorrow With A Braid). I was keeping it together for most of the first disc, alert to things like a “Heavily reverbed vocal over high-BPM hardcore beat, with shouting, breaking up into static” (Poinsettia Pills). By the start of the second, I was falling back more heavily on metaphor, describing one track as a “Malfunctioning robot mouse trying to escape from galvanized metal dustbin” (Wildflowers), and then being thrown by the abrupt transition into “Folky acoustic guitar riff accompanied by dark ambient hums”. I’m pretty incoherent for the bulk of that disc, jumping between a “big fat minor chord” and an “intermittent gunshot rhythm”, between “static noises” and “space-invader noises”, between “heavily reverbed lyrics” and “shouting about pain”. And then I get it together for the final track (Christ Among The Broken Glass), with its “Ominous humming, crackling, and scraping noises dominated by an open, resonant acoustic guitar melody which weirdly reminds me of [Radiohead’s] Street Spirit [(Fade Out)]”… this last realization being rather surprising and somehow rather brilliant. The record does indeed fade out in style, with a wheezing of minor-key synths and a whispered lyric imagining a Jesus figure among the destitutes of a wintry city, desperate and helpless in the face of the scale of their need, and cheerily ending “‘Go ahead,’ he says, ‘Go before me.’ Whose turn is it with the flashlight, down in the hole tonight?”.

So, yes, this is rather self-consciously epic. And, no, I don’t pretend to have got my head around it yet. Most of my favourite albums, I feel like we spend a while getting to know each other, then we form a relationship, and maybe we fall in love. I couldn’t say that I love this record, and indeed I suspect it’s trying quite hard not to be lovable: we’re still at an awkward stage where I’m never quite at ease with it, and I suspect that stage might last for some time. But I admire it immensely, and I keep getting drawn back to it, each time hoping to figure out another bit of its puzzle.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Ricardo Donoso: Saravá Exu (CD, Denovali, February 2015)

This album sets out to explore “the theme of Descent” and the “many myths in the shape of the hero going underground to pass a period of solitude”, for which purpose Donoso channelled “the sacred esoteric rituals of the Brazilian cult of Quimbanda”. Which is nice. If this were the dark ambient record it threatens to be, I reckon it would be a pretty good one: all doom-laden throbbing basses, screeching strings, disorienting clanks and thuds, ethereal chanting, and ominous atmospherics. What makes it a really great record is the subtle use of melody — mostly just some simple chord progressions, but their placing and execution makes them superbly effective — and especially rhythm. There’s a sort of frantic heartbeat that makes brief appearances in parts of the first few tracks, building a sense of urgency and then fading away. This comes to a climax in the second half of the penultimate track, Matutinum, which starts out as a bass-heavy growler and erupts into a dark technoid monster, with insistent tribal drumming propelling what could be a truly awesome soundtrack for the climactic running-about scene in a very classy noir thriller. The final track is another largely ambient number, the mood superbly controlled as it moves between serenely floaty and something just quietly but profoundly unsettling… It’s as if Donoso has used the music to look inside himself and seek some answers, and in the end has achieved some kind of resolution — but isn’t entirely comfortable with what he’s discovered. A thrilling, fascinating, and troubling record.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Dark Ambient / Drone / Metal.

Kreng: Grimoire (CD, Miasmah, June 2011)

So, yes, first of all: Pepijn Caudron has chosen to record under the name Kreng; the album is called Grimoire; the label is Miasmah; the sleeve is entirely black and grey, has a grainy headshot of what might well be a corpse on the front, and makes extensive use of a blackletter typeface… if you want to say “ha ha, goth!” then I will understand. And you might have a point: the first track is composed of scary-movie breathing and scratching noises, a rough buzzing sound, a hellish bassy throb, an ethereal swell of brass, and a posh British voice saying things like “let go of the Earth” and “go towards the light”, and it very much sets the tone for the whole record. Elsewhere, we get knocking sounds which could be a grandfather clock, a heartbeat, or the grim reaper beating at your door; spooky neo-classical drones focussing heavily on the lower end of the register (cellos, bassoons, and double basses abound); baroque chamber music getting slowly eaten away by a low-end distortion effect; funereal piano, courtesy of the seemingly ubiquitous Nils Frahm (who also mastered the album); shuddering, industrial percussion; Caretaker-style hauntology; what could be the introduction to a particularly bleak early Nick Cave number, only here the guitars never kick in and the vocals are replaced by throat singing; in fact, everything any fan of dark ambient / modern classical crossover music with something of the night about them could ask for. It’s constructed with great skill, and hangs together as a piece despite the range of styles. Obviously, I think all this is splendid. I guess the questions are: can we take it seriously, and are we meant to? For the most part, I find that I can, and in places find it genuinely sinister. There are elements — notably the operatic soprano, all dissonant runs and melodramatic portamento — which strike me as deliberate black humour (though really, who knows?). But, of course, there has always been an interesting relationship between horror and humour: by exaggerating the macabre to the point of ridicule, we are able to laugh at our fears… but in the end, we know that death with get the last laugh.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Dark Ambient / Drone / Metal.