Arctic Gates is a collaboration of two prolific artists from the Cryo Chamber label: fellow Ukrainians Ugasanie (Pavel Malyshkin, aka Polterngeist) and Dronny Darko (Oleg Puzan). Its overall feel is oddly subdued, in a manner indicative of Puzan’s idiosyncratic ‘lowercase dark ambient’ that emphasises its intimate relationship with the subject matter through subtle sound-collages and a heavy use of field music. What is perhaps most striking about its use in Arctic Gates, though, is the extent to which the distinction of synthesised sound and field recording is blurred.
This feels apt to their choice of subject matter. Arctic Gates feels like an attempt to de-romanticise the frozen north, centering its alien hostility and inhuman vastness. Yet while humanity is not absent from the composition, it is often little more than the analogue ghost of humanity that remains. Alongside the potent sounds evocative of grinding ice floes, or perhaps the exhalations of arctic micro-fauna are traces of radio chatter, signals in Morse code, and mechanical vibration patterns of distant industry.
Its final section (the exactly sixteen-minute long ‘Isolation Pit’) invokes the cold lethality of the north in its most direct sense, bringing forth ominous metallic intonations, reminiscent of the eerie song of an Aeolian harp fading into the purring static of an overhead pylon. And, surprisingly, it is here that we find, buried in the mix but becoming gradually more distinct, the only trace of a recognisable melody in the entire album – consisting of a simple looping of synthesised notes, like a computerised jingle; another ghostly fragment of human presence, but one more contemporary, and infinitely closer to home than the Maritime spectres of earlier passages.
What we’re ultimately left with is a vision of the arctic for itself, whose will is implacable and whose processes are potent and crushingly slow. Given that the relationship between humanity and the arctic has always been one of antagonism (either through doomed polar explorations or, later, climate change) it seems an interesting to explore a hypothetical situation in which the two could coexist.
Which, in this case, is death.
7 / 10