Dark ambient music functions a lot like horror movies in that the most effective titles are often those that are the quietest and subtlest. Ultra-bloody torture porn might seem like the epitome of the genre given how horrific it is. However, many of the great horror films—e.g., The Innocents, The Haunting, The Shining—rely more on atmosphere and ambiguity than shock; these engage the viewer’s mind in a way that mere sadism can’t and won’t. And so it is with dark ambient music.
You’d think that the louder, creepier, and more horrific the sounds employed, the more effective a dark ambient album will be. And true, there are many artists working in the genre that employ sounds—e.g., discordant machine noises, ominous percussion, disembodied and twisted voices, low frequency drones—that are fully intent on drawing the listener down into a black audio abyss. (Lustmord, one of the genre’s most well-known and influential proponents, is a prime example of this approach.)
Now, I like abyssal expanses of unrelenting sonic blackness as much as the next discerning listener. But sometimes, such music simply sounds like it’s trying too hard. With their latest full-length Owl Splinters, Deaf Center—the Norwegian duo of Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland—take a decidedly different approach, and show how being quieter and subtler can prove more impactful and haunting than any barrage of monstrous or terrifying sounds.