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- artwork20 Tracks, 58.43
It is hard to believe that six years have gone by since Deaf Center’s seminal ‘Pale Ravine’ LP hit the shelves. In the time since, their distinct brand of haunted, cinematic ambience has curled and wisped its way into near mainstream acceptance. The distinct melodies of Norwegians Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland have now become almost synonymous with a specific shard of mysterious, gloomy imagery so it feels high time that the duo should return to add the next chapter to their shadowy history.
In contrast to Skodvin and Totland’s previous work, ‘Owl Splinters’ was recorded in a studio setting (Nils Frahm’s Durton studio, to be exact), and the lo-fidelity, haphazard techniques of their early recordings are now all but gone. With the benefit of some high-end engineering and analogue equipment, Skodvin and Totland’s murky compositions have been transformed from sketches into glorious widescreen spectacles. The blackened, scraping tone of Skodvin’s strings ring out on the album’s opener ‘Divided’ before seismic bass drones push up from beneath with a cacophonous, earthy clarity. This is the same Deaf Center we fell in love with all those years ago, but bigger and more powerful than ever before.
Between the more epic compositions, the two musicians take time to give their own solo instruments the time to breathe – Totland with the piano and Skodvin on the cello. These small vignettes are crucial to the overall narrative of ‘Owl Splinters’, each adding not only a chance for the listener to breathe, but also a crack of sunlight in the oppressively bleak atmosphere. Everything slots into place on the album’s crushing centrepiece ‘The Day I Would Never Have’ – piano and cello tumble into each other forming a dense, affecting cloud of sound. Echoes of half-remembered horror movies, love songs and the dark arts are crumbled together in a Norwegian cauldron to reveal something that at its heart is deeply moving and dare I say it, beautiful? Deaf Center are back, and ‘Owl Splinters’ might just be their most defining moment to date.