Svarte Greiner
Penpals Forever
(And Ever)





Isn't this one of the most poignant and outright creepy front artworks you have ever seen? What a sick Roger Corman-esque prospect: an archetypical Shakespearean persona sends several heart-warming letters to a beloved penpal, waiting for their first meeting in the near future, as both people share similar interests and seem to know each other better and better with each additional letter. Turns out that the best friend is actually a bird-like brutish critter, maybe even wearing a Man Bird Dress. Grotesque hilarity and sheer horror ensue if these penpals ever meet! Berlin-based Norwegian Erik K. Skodvin aka Svarte Greiner, Dark Ambient producer and curator at his Miasmah label whose iconic figure is that perfectly genteel human shown in the front cover’s lower picture, is known for his creepy and frightening front artworks, but the one of his EP Penpals Forever (And Ever) takes the cake. It is tremendously bizarre and more than a bit gloomy. The music, luckily enough, matches the spectrum, but goes beyond even the territories that Skodvin so skillfully produced over the years. First released as a two-track music cassette version on Digitalis Records in 2008, the CD version and digital download incarnation of 2010 comprise of three additional tracks and keep the original two oneiric images intact. All five tracks are untitled, and whether this is the reason for their ferocious enchantment or not, Penpals Forever (And Ever) is an essential release by this skilled producer. The manifold reasons are given below, but rest assured that this record contains the essence of Svarte Greiner's steady progression.


The untitled first track (A1) is a gloomy piece of almost eleven and a half minutes. Its prologue, however, might lure the listener into thinking otherwise, as a soft pink noise stream whirrs around a golden-shimmering electric guitar melody of the staccato-esque Grunge-like, but ultimately soothing kind. Electric guitars and Svarte Greiner always fit together, but the rural contryside-evoking bonfire mentality sure enough is highly unusual. Bit by bit though, the sun sets and provides the backdrop for eerier undertones in-between the guitar cicadas. These darkly droning tones seem to derive from a classic piano, but while I am not so sure about their true origin, I can pinpoint their timbre: it is pitch-black. After roughly five and a half minutes, the guitar rotors almost wane as they are plucked much more infrequently in order to make room for a dark Dronescape of abyssal bass infusions and dungeon scents. The silky hiss returns in tandem with a screeching siren, and even though this siren is comparatively softened, its blurry state only expands its impetus. Only in the final minute does it become glaringly perceptible. It remains the only audible source and sounds like a creak gear train or clanky clockwork. This first track is a strong favorite of mine, for it showcases the slow and ever-changing atmosphere-related shifts Skodvin is so good in creating.


The 14 and a half minutes long diorama of track 2 (A2), on the other hand, does not show a particular shift rather than a slow progression from the initial gateway to its exodus. This Ambient composition is much more hazy and mystical, but by no means purifying! Whitewashed drones waft incessantly in the thick air, only perturbed by the occasionally plinking or piercing guitar licks of the Oriental kind, belly-massaging bass creeks and another drone layer in the form of an additional ship horn-like and strangely peaceful drone layer. The plasticity of this piece is awesome, for the infinitesimal protuberances, clicks and vesicles in adjacency to the guitar layers are the actual stars. It remains astonishing to me how detailed this supposed background is. It is, to my mind, essential to this piece; instead of a pitch-black nothingness, Svarte Greiner fills the implied room with a whole landscape. It almost sounds like a field recording of a grey swamp or a forlorn pasture near an enchanted wood. The aura is filled with mist, but is not terrifying at all. Skodvin depicts more of a deep dream than a spine-tingling nightmare. The guitar twangs are at times so punchy and acidic that they resemble Native American chimes. Truly enigmatic. A2 is one of my absolute favorite Svarte Greiner tracks. It has everything I humbly demand from a Drone track, but neither is it a pure Drone example, nor a Dark Ambient piece. It sits somewhere in-between, and provides one hell of a listening experience.


The following three tracks are new additions for the CD release, but degrading them as afterthoughts would be injudicious. B1 is the biggest surprise of them all, similarly relying on an ill-spirited phantasmagoria as A2, but presenting a more varied and oversaturated soundscape. The point of origin is already of great interest: the artist fires off a sizzling-hot mirage of – I kid you not – spectral Surf Rock tone sequences on his guitar! An elastic wonkiness is added to many of the riffs, resulting in a vintage listening experience that is warm-hearted and surprisingly snugly. Surfing on blood waves – oh yeah! It is only a matter of time until some frightening scent reaches the endemic vista; this scent is deeply encapsulated in an utterly mellow synth drone and is not perceptible until much later when the voluminousness starts to rise and consist of cacophonous underpinnings. The ensuing frostiness fends off the thermal heat, increasing its melancholy, then fading out slowly. The guitar riff is definitely catchy, and it can really haunt a listener, but in a good way. B2 is yet again even more multilayered than the preceding tracks. What starts with a Glitch-resembling soundscape of gelid molecules, electroacoustic sine waves and a gorgeous polyphony of dark strings, moves into a wraithlike multifaceted fog where braking trains in metropolitan areas are entangled with bestially overdriven guitars and transcendental synth washes. If I did not know this to be a Svarte Greiner track, I would not believe my ears. Oscillating between peacefulness and compressed tension, B2 is a thick Drone masterpiece, totally different from the musician’s (perceived) stylistic range. The final extravaganza of nine minutes, B3, delivers what fans expect: a Dark Ambient critter of the hazy kind, with strong links to Svarte Greiner's debut Knive (2006). B3 intermixes clichés like hectic footsteps, wind gusts, a nocturnal shadiness full of owls and an old clock tower, but once the terrifyingly black bass drones set in, creepiness ensues. Bubbling blebs, glittering crystal shards, an increasing storm in tandem with a vault-like reverberation and the distorted laughter of an electric guitar round this intense track off. At one point, the guitars swell so much that their acidic rivers of bile deliberately destroy the carefully built fragility. When Penpals Forever (And Ever) ends with plinking guitars, it leaves a bewildered listener. Not because it it partially scary. It is due to its sanguine mellowness.


Penpals Forever (And Ever) is a terrific piece of art in the given CD incarnation. It is reviewers like me who try to attach the Dark Ambient label to the musician at all costs and all the time. Rather than looking at Erik K. Skodvin's rolling eyes, we are in for a multifaceted treat which reinterprets the subgenre's characteristic traits in the most successful way. Instead of eerily howling wolves or nocturnal pre-Slender-Man-meme forests, the two compositions of the cassette edition already send different kinds of shivers down one's spine. The warm Oriental guitarscape in A1 shifts slowly into darker realms when gloomy underpinning tones are added. As bone-dry as A1 is, the hazy wideness of A2 harks into classical realms of pink noise, creaking devices, strangely plucked strings, mystified distant melodies and field recordings. But it is the additional material that outshines the original Penpals: be it the spectral Surf Rock accents on B1 which are so utterly catchy, the thick noosphere of overdriven guitars and braking trains at the central station of purgatory, or the standard nod – but still successful – of B3 with its frosty blizzards and footsteps in the red-tinted darkness. Penpals Forever (And Ever) is varied and yet coherent. As it is expected from Svarte Greiner, no cheap thrills or Radiophonic Workshop sound effects are invoked or used, making the abyssal blackness or foggy greyness of this EP so convincing. This one is a hit, and I advise those who want a compressed view to the different routes this darker, nastier genre can go, to check it out. I love these penpals, I really do. Shiver me timbers!




Further reading:

Follow Erik K. Skodvin on Twitter: @_knive.




Ambient Review 178: Svarte Greiner – Penpals Forever (And Ever) (2010). Originally published on Feb. 6, 2013 at