Deaf Center – Pale Ravine (2016 Edition)

Originally released in 2005 on Type Records, Pale Ravine was a chilling, full-length introduction to the bone-cold music of Deaf Center. The release has been out of print for a long time, so an imminent reissuing through Miasmah Records is great news. The new pressing will also add an extra twenty minutes of music from the same period.

These darkened woods are populated with a number of brooding, colourless drones. Entangled in a stark, frozen beauty, the music is a place of sanctity, but it hides its own dangers, too. The sap dripping out of the music is made out of a dull liquid that dribbles onto the damp soil. Trees wave in response to a chilly wind, and a thin static rustles against the leaves. There’s enough cold air to send a shudder through the body’s system. You’ll need to wrap up warm.

Tones scurry around like a nest of insects, and a pale, shivering piano drags itself up from the depths of the silver lake. Deeper in, cavernous strings find refuge in dark places. At the eerily placid ‘White Lake’, the body of water gently ripples, quivering as it succumbs to its sub-zero temperature. Eleven years have passed, but the music (the landscape) hasn’t dated at all; it’ll still look the same a decade on from now. Winds whip up against the face. Craggy rocks and perilous peaks protrude from the music. A stream cradles ill, darkened waters, and synths surge as they’re caught in the wake of a wide river. Smoother strings help to cover up the jagged areas, covering them in mystic bands of low-lying fog until the illusion’s complete. In Pale Ravine, you can go exploring; as the music’s wrenched from the soil, every detailed texture becomes an important artifact.

Pale Ravine was inspired by old 8mm film reels and historical architecture, but it also projects the stunning landscape of Norway. A dark atmosphere settles over the music, with field recordings helping to authenticate and validate the atmosphere. It can be a creepy, claustrophobic listen, but sometimes the music withdraws into the carved insides of a hollow oak. Slow drones prolong the life of its prey – the music’s hunting. Whatever the landscape, Pale Ravine perches on the peak that separates the sublime from the sinister.

Wooden creaks send out an ominous code. A muffled footstep morphs into a nervy, anxious thing before it slinks out of sight. The consuming fog groans. Inside, you can hear the recessed bones of an anorexic, grim recital playing on and on and on. Orbs of dust stick to and settle within the confines of a cabin as twilight falls. There’s something old and stale within the music’s skeleton, its sheet music coming from the wet pages of a tome and the past life it speaks of. The actors change but the characters and the acts do not. It’s a cinematic experience where the music composes scene after scene; flies buzz around decomposing flesh in ‘The Clearing’, and eerie synths take you by the hand. The lakeside piano has drowned. The unassuming, haunting ballet of the ambient ‘Social Lucy Waltz’ soon gives way to something ominous, but the overcast atmosphere isn’t too oppressive. Subtlety is at play, but the cloying atmosphere spreads like a dark pathogen.

‘The Hall’ pushes the creep-o-meter into the red zone. The random clicks and scratches are chinks in the music’s armour. A poltergeist would be more than happy with the clanks and bumps, but thankfully these disturbances lead to the fresh air of ‘Forest’. Eleven years on and Pale Ravine is still much admired and often imitated. The partnership of Erik Skodvin and Otto A. Totland would later yield the equally dark and haunting sophomore, Owl Splinters.

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