Gazing Too Long Into The Abyss: A Cold Hysteria

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Winter makes you do crazy things, doesn’t it? Maybe you get a little more down in the dumps because of the lack of sunlight. Maybe you simply have a hard time getting motivated after the long, relaxing holiday break. Or maybe you break into hysterical, naked laughing/screaming fits that cause you to run out into the cold and suffer convulsions before ultimately recovering and not remembering a thing. Good times.

Arctic Hysteria, also known as “piblokto” is a culture-bound syndrome said to affect some societies living within the arctic circle. Like a nightmarish version of cabin fever, it results in individuals performing irrational and dangerous acts due to a combination of lack of sun, extreme cold, isolated living conditions, vitamin toxicity and even possession by evil spirits. Though there appears to be skepticism that it exists at all, there’s no denying that winter can fuck many of us up mentally, sometimes in ways we can’t even begin to explain, like what happened during the Dyatlov Pass incident (be sure to read that for some bizarre dreams tonight). Even the most coddled of us first-worlders, with our endless supply of entertainment and comfort foods, can attest to going a bit stir-crazy during the dregs of a long winter. Just imagine how we’d react if this was our view for 80% of the year.

Since it’s only a matter of time until each one of us runs outside naked, screaming and convulsing (and probably covered in blood somehow, or confessing a love for Emmure, both of which are pretty damning), let’s try and explore what it will sound like. Here are four releases that, depending on your view of the icy months of the northern hemisphere, can either help you come face-to-face with the crippling bleakness of it all or drive you further into your blanket-swaddled hidey hole.

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Qrabay‘s album Hungry Creatures just came out at the start of 2015, and while some of the tracks like Spirit’s Revenge are a bit slow to ramp up, sticking with them reveals they’re an especially effective score to small phobias that hint at larger fears. Let the sickening opening synth strings storyboard a worrying scene of loneliness in a forgotten arctic corner of the world, isolated by endless stretches of icy tundra. This is a track that thrives on plenty of empty space before the gales of haunted, cavernous winds slowly pick up speed and intensity as they push your imagination outward to the existence of unseen, unknown threats in the pale blue nothingness.

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Ugasanie, an artist on Sweden’s supremely badass Cryo Chamber label, has created a disturbing, topic-appropriate ode to the terrors of icy winter darkness with White Silence. The track To the Lord of the Polar Desert With Seven Faces slowly floats you into a chilling, looming atmosphere of oppressive snowy vastness that compounds the “I’m creeped out” factor of the Qrabay track above into an expression of “my mind is not my own.” At around the 3 minute mark in this high quality 24-bit track, a stretch of extremely alien-sounding Inuit throat singing tops off the ascending gray noise to eventually reach a drone that sounds like the very mountains depicted in the cover art are reverberating with metamorphic tones echoed through miles of snaking glaciers.

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Black Mountain Transmitter has a particularly unsettling track in “Palimpsestes,” in which the context of the previous two tracks now turns from the overwhelming indifference of nature to the bitter recesses of a fractured mind. Emptied of warmth, this track uses an aching, metallic whine of tritones that dispenses with any semblance of comfort and instead creates an aria for the confining nature of winter’s grasp. Like a corpse’s desiccated hand permanently affixed to its mortal wound, it implies that the white, dead season is assuming a permanent slot in the calendar.

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Finally, Gnaw Their Tongues is somewhat new to me but well-loved by many TOH patrons, and it’s not hard to understand why. Rarely can a track of ambient sound put forth such an instantaneous, unblinkingly evil air. “The Gate of Death” from Wir Essen Seelen In Der Nacht (We Eat Souls In The Night) allows only a brief period of relative peace before bombarding your ears with hellish, violent detonations of distilled malevolence. Let your mind careen off its fleshy walls with Baconian imagery as it rips itself apart to the soundtrack of cavernous, throbbing swells and subterranean hollows, topped off by layers of hateful vocals practically splitting themselves in two with knife edges of overdriven static.

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What songs help or haunt you in the cold months? Share your recommendations in the comments below.

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