Dark Winter (dw074), 2010
It starts in a deep place, and then sinks deeper, but never to a place devoid of light. The Death of Days, the second release from Jeff Zvorak’s ambient project Edge of October, is one of the most chilling genre works I’ve ever heard. Inspired by various post-apocalyptic works, Zvorak has channeled the loss, mystery, and bleakness of what remains following global tragedy into an album that drips with a near-palpable atmosphere that is utterly convincing, and in many places, utterly terrifying. And yet, in spite of its apparent hopelessness, there’s a hidden layer that speaks to what has come before.
The single piercing tone that opens “The Inevitable” is soon buried under a grinding crush of enormous presence; perhaps this is the sound of the end. Inevitable indeed. “Exhumation” seems to follow in time, unearthing something long-lost: digging tools clank and rattle, and the bones of the earth shift and groan overhead. It’s a quieter track than its precursor, but just as claustrophobic. Zvorak moves from drone to field recording to sample-collage with enviable and natural ease; The Death of Days shifts and heaves like some massive beast beset by restless slumber.
The album’s most powerful moment is “Memory and Machines,” which contains the most harrowing moans and cries I’ve ever heard put to record. I have no idea what the source of these harrowing intonations might be, and perhaps it’s best I don’t. The grief of whatever entity we’re hearing is perfectly captured, and perfectly enhanced by the surrounding space tailored by Zvorak. Something dear has vanished forever, and what we hear is the sound of unfiltered lament.
In the midst of all this, Zvorak presents a track like “Wind in the Wires,” which shows a rare level of artistic originality. Here, sparse muted keys that sound like a piano being plinked at the ocean floor to create a sense of progress and structure in a beautifully melancholic manner. He underlines it with moving washes so delicate and subtle, you notice them only when they fade to nothing. This is an ideal piece to follow the apocalypse, as it portrays something gone forever….but its essence is forever caught here, for us to contemplate, and perhaps, remember precious things from our own past. Consider the subtitles of two of the three interspersed “Ghost Signal” tracks: “II: Having Weathered the Storm” and “III: Our Last, Best Hope.” There is always light in the darkest places, even if it is only a memory.
Here lies the undercurrent of this work. In order for one to feel loss, that which has been lost must have held meaning. In the midst of The Death of Days, there remains the days; they must have been bright indeed for their end to bring such catastrophe. While the album is indeed monolithic in its darkness, Zvorak has left the light on for us – yes, it’s tiny and guttering, but it endures nonetheless. In fact, its presence makes the darkness that much thicker.
Zvorak appears to take his output seriously, and his expressive talent is formidable. Collapse (2008) came into being as the result of a personal breakdown, and The Death of Days, while more visionary and expansive, is just as raw and unrelenting. The Death of Days is an unnerving listen, but it is an incredibly crafted one. Its brilliant aesthetics are matched only by its execution; it builds something unique from familiar pieces. The Death of Days is not just a vision of devastation, brought to life with stunning expertise; it is a moving tribute to forgotten wonders.