Svarte Greiner
Black Tie






Black Tie is the first new album of Berlin-based Norwegian Erik K. Skodvin aka Svarte Greiner since his remorselessly burlesque Hollywood Noir work called Kappe (2009); its opener Tunnel Of Love is to this day a prime example of a cunning smokescreen distraction, and once the blazingly braising-brazen blades are clanging, one can never again overcome their deeply disturbing dread. Even though the Dark Ambient luminary since then undertook a fleeting visit to the EP format with his brutish-grotesque audiorama Penpals Forever (And Ever) (2010) – whose front artwork, I must add, provides a bona fide outlook to the things to come – and conspired with Aidan Baker and Andrea Belfi as B/B/S on their multi-faceted four-track collaboration Brick Mask (2013), Black Tie is surprisingly enough Skodvin’s very first solo entry on his own record label Miasmah under the disguise of Svarte Greiner, released at the end of April 2013 on vinyl, CD and a digital download version. It comprises of two tracks of the 20+ minutes range, and while previous arrangements of the artist crossed the boundaries of ten minutes, this duopoly opens up a whole new dimension. Both offerings furthermore carve out the dualistic concept of Svarte Greiner, aptly described in the press blurb as yin and yang, for Dark Ambient can only be dark when you can separate it from endemic light. Hence, the two compositions are called Black Tie and White Noise. While the former is a commissioned piece for an art installation by Marit Følstad, its white brother is a Drone piece that was written with the album already in mind and caused, as it turns out, quite a stir even in Miasmah’s headquarters due to its intriguing concoction of stern textures which sound at times overwhelmingly synthetic and purposefully artificial. However, in an email to me, Erik Skodvin swears that all elements of the album are string-based and acoustic, only the post-processing is of electronic origin. No synths allowed! Svarte Greiner's works, whether they are EP's or LP's, are always cinematic treats for me, and Black Tie is no different. Since it sits on the brink of a new chapter in Svarte Greiner's inventiveness while at the same time turning back to the gloriously gruesome past throughout the release, the question occurs whether this is a gleaming album or a rehash of the past? It's dissection time!


Black Tie functions as the gateway of the album, the point of departure into an alatoric abyss. It proves to be the very piece which was used in Marit Følstad’s art installation. Whether Skodvin altered, remastered or improved this conniving chimera for the purpose of this album is not revealed, but if this is indeed the original incarnation visitors experienced – no, had to face – during the exhibition, then… blimey! Black Tie is a piece of over 20 minutes that is as adamant about its progression and shape-shifting physiognomy as it is keen on unleashing some vintage peculiarities of the genre which may seem to be cheap shockers on paper, but not in the panorama of Svarte Greiner’s dusky dungeon itself. As if the Norwegian guitarist wanted to put anyone's knowledge about the Dark Ambient genre’s reoccurring molecules to the test, he kicks off this crepuscular critter with a few histrionic stringed bass blebs whose earth-shaking decay and soul-catching reverb is unleashed right into the cantonment of nullity, for as it is so common in Svarte Greiner’s realms, once there is no field recording involved in the backdrop-constituting panorama, there is anything but a pitch-black nothingness which is only slightly perturbed by the brownish-red reverberation of the staggering cavalcade of micro-ruction. Black Tie’s plasticity is slowly rising thanks to a few sweeping and clicking particles, threnodic and thin yet rising violin-fueled airflows and an inebriated whorl of hefty insectoid susurrations on the cello; its energetic darkness is supercharged with torment and anguish, the penetrating prowess pierces powerfully through the cellar.


Throughout its runtime, Black Tie reveals its layer-based approach while camouflaging its true nucleus with various volutions. Even nine minutes into the soundscape of this title track, the luminiferous toxicity of the stringed bass drops is ominously omnipresent, a diffuse faux-synth cloud of processed strings wafts through the scenery, its characteristic traits being unexpectedly ethereal, bright and even somewhat enchanting due to the positively monotonous languor. The ninth minute also marks the first big shift: a moiré or veil is covering the previously crisp layers, another one of Erik Skodvin’s signature techniques that meander throughout his works. Bale and tribulation seem to be washed away in this quasi-wraithlike state Black Tie is in, the monotony of the wadded strings is now perturbed – but not yet pestered – by a granular gallimaufry of fleeing fizzles, rustling clicks and bubbling gongs. The atmosphere becomes dichotomous, the blurry background and the bustling particles are irremediably engulfed. Instead of a state of agony, Black Tie is loaded with presentiment, waiting for some revealing sign, a climactic shard or apocalyptic exposure. This moment is indeed coming, and while I do not want to reveal its impetus, let alone the time mark where it appears several times, rest assured that the daedal dripstone cave-inducing aura is thunderously demolished brick by brick. It is in these last seven minutes where Svarte Greiner takes the listener to outright nightmarish vaults. The Dark Ambient genre is then more menacing than ever, for what shall a musician do if a listener cannot be scared with textures, surfaces and certain patterns anymore after years of listening experience? Well, there's one solution: triple them! Black Tie’s climax is not plethoric, every element is in its right place and hits – even literally so – the listener, resulting in a galimafrée of bone fragments and bile. I could leave it at that, were it not for an addendum, an admixed apotheosis which sees the return of the point of origin which is now ennobled by ashen streams of strings. Only at its very end does Black Tie reveal its horrific existence: the progression throughout the track is malignantly feigned and strictly used in order to reach an antithetical, namely circular state that is so typical for art exhibitions. One visitor goes, another one comes. Another victim. The circle repeats. For an overinflated theatrical effect, imagine the laughter of Vincent Price.


After Black Tie follows White Noise, a piece of 21 minutes which might be the actual achievement of Erik Skodvin, depending on each listener’s expectations. Whatever these may be, Svarte Greiner ventures into a new direction, a saying that is as old as the music industry itself and not even true in regard to the Norseman’s output if one considers the otherwise untitled B1 off Penpals Forever (And Ever) which grafted a bit of preternatural Surf Rock onto the arrangement, a huge surprise and definitely not of the sun-soaked kind. White Noise, all in all, revisits certain timbres that are close to Skodvin’s heart while still sounding fresh, alienating and dazzling. In this piece, the artist decides to make use of a Middle Eastern pentatonicism that sounds largely dissonant and off-key to Occidental ears. At the same time, it is a proper Drone artifact that neglects a lacunar-fissured appearance in favor of legato washes and equable streams. Or so it seems. The prelude phase launches with wondrously belly-massaging bass runlets of the soothing kind which change their half-tones ever so slightly, comprises a form of undulation and inherits that kind of tension, but nonetheless deports itself as being oddly balmy. This phase begs the listener for (even) higher volume levels during which the force of the bass drones works best, but there is another good reason for winding the volume up, an important element that is orbiting around this fundament: white noise.


Gently whirling like tape hiss, the purifying nature of that white noise is more than welcome in the given surroundings which are soon to follow, and while they are not constituting a new territory for Svarte Greiner per se, their duration in the given runtime allows for a pompously majestic diorama of damnation. Accusatory, wailing electric guitars and their violin-based next of kin whiff creepy tone sequences through the air, two to three simultaneous layers create that Jericho-esque Last Judgement feeling of klaxon horns and doomsday sirens. The ferocious fascination of this setting results from the bounteous time Skodvin allows the guitar strata to unfold, and it so happens that they are not only working together in order to treble the virulence of the setting, no, they are oftentimes circumventing and counterattacking the comprehensive intrinsic goal; very short moments of harmony or even euphony feel like moony mirages, malevolent miasmas (!), pernicious phantasmagorias. Even in its shadiest moments, White Noise is eerily mollifying in the way every good Drone tune can be, whether it is solely based on stokehold romance, stormy gales or, as is the case here, multiple layers of Oriental noise. When the right, compatible frequencies coalesce, they even resemble synth choirs. White Noise is as keen on different textures as it is on fathoming out the phantom apparitions and false figments that occur when the ears are plied with an incessant void. When this void fades out into the distance after more than 14 minutes, the white noise returns, sweeping away the body parts of the former frequency ranges, only to come back in full force for the catastrophic conclusion which is… not as doom-laden as expected. It is surprisingly saturated and colorful, with a tendency of vesiculating in the red color range. Similar to the physique of synth strings, but according to Skodvin based on processed acoustic strings, this complexion is then entangled with a steady beat of frightening muffled palpitations complete with Geiger counter-like splutters. This is also the last thing the listener hears, for this beat fades into the black vacuum of oblivion. White Noise is history.


Erik K. Skodvin did not invent Dark Ambient. Pious Christians did this a few years before, during the 10th century when they drafted their Gregorian chants, but alas, their electric guitars did not sound as grinding and malevolent, and so the Berlin-based sound expert from Norway remains in a sphere of his own. Luckily, he remains in this state in the year 2013 when the Dark Ambient subgenre faces the danger of becoming stale, repetitive and insipid, for the listeners surely have encountered more than enough aural dioramas of tawny dungeons, moist cellars, dusky forests, misty swamps, Gorgonian graveyards and Gothic castles. Then again, the Pop genre is pestered with a never-ending flood of love messages; student bands without guitarists are nonexistent; it is still not necessary to write down Drone songs and transform them into sheet music. These are the times in which Black Tie is released, with the eponymous first track being a pitch-perfect example of the genre. Skodvin can create harsher, more eclectic, labyrinthine, asbestus-coated, acidic and downright venomous tracks, true, but the intriguing aspects of the track Black Tie are found in its oxymoronically circular-progressive structure which its raison d'être as a piece for an a installation brings with it. From the crestfallen bass thumps over the crawling glitters and fizzles to the state of blurry vision and the fulminant finale, the title track targets Svarte Greiner fans and delivers everything they could possibly desire within 20 minutes. White Noise then showcases the literal and the allegorical meaning of its title, first with a few hissing gusts, then with a superb layering technique of roundabout three string instruments that lures the listener, comforts him or her respectively despite – or because of – the eldritch maelstrom of sirens. It is here where the quality of the textures becomes congruent with the quantity of minutes. The duration alone guarantees a certain zone out impression… not of the New Age kind, mind you, but it is still intriguing in a weirdly twisted way. Black Tie as an album has only one problem: it is too short and only features two tracks. If Skodvin decides to turn his attention to his bands and collaborations like Deaf Center or B/B/S, or if he becomes entangled with entirely new bands, another four years might pass until fans hear something new from Svarte Greiner. Which would be as mean-spirited as the music. With these things in mind, Black Tie's monstrous gestalt only grows and becomes a great foil to the wooden-moist landscapes of the debut Knive (2006) and the metallic-lanthanoid caverns of Kappe (2009).



Further listening and reading:

  • Listen to a 4+ minutes long excerpt of Black Tie and White Noise on SoundCloud. The worldwide release date of Black Tie is April 26, 2013.
  • Follow Erik K. Skodvin and his Miasmah label on Twitter: @_knive and @_miasmah.




Ambient Review 209: Svarte Greiner – Black Tie (2013). Originally published on Apr. 24, 2013 at