Thomas Köner

Novaya Zemlya

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Novaya Zemlya is a grand statement. But then again, Thomas Köner doesn't operate in any scale other than monumental. All of his albums (barring the somewhat lackluster La Barca from 2003) speak through the gasping drones of a bleak existentialism. For Köner, the human condition is mirrored in the environment around us, especially those rugged, barren locales at the poles, with his isolationist smears of grey sounds alluding to water, ice, permafrost, wind, radiation, and vast empty spaces above the Arctic Circle. The environmental site for this album is a suitably inhospitable Russian archipelago jutting far out into the Arctic Ocean toward the North Pole. During the arms race of the Cold War, the Soviet Union used Novaya Zemlya as a nuclear test site, dropping the Tsar Bomba in 1961 on the landmass, which was permanently scarred by the largest atomic detonation in the history of the world. The thin layer of nuclear fallout which has buried itself in the frozen tundra of Novaya Zemlya commingles with radioactive isotopes from poorly managed storage facilities, sunken reactors, and scuttled submarines.
Köner describes this landscape through its hazardous potential, which is so much worse than the current situation. With global warming, the methane gas spewed from a melted permafrost will lift all of that radioactive material into the atmosphere and send that along the prevailing winds across western Russian over Scandinavia and into continental Europe. Perhaps, a greater catastrophe than Chernobyl. In speaking to that potential, Köner manifests pockets of near silence throughout the album with his signature tectonic rumblings and stealth-bomber frequencies gliding beyond the event horizon into the realm of the audible. Darkened crumblings of earthen material pocks the beginning of the first in a trilogy of tracks, sounding almost like slabs of ice thunderously collapsing into the sea. Drones swell and collapse into pools of resonant emptiness, broken on the second track by a disembodied shortwave radio transmission of garbled voices. The album returns to those cold, contemplative sounds until the end of the album draws near, when Köner introduces a few elegant, melodic plucks from what might be a harp. For all of the foreboding that looms throughout, the end is almost hopeful that humanity might just sort out this global warming puzzle. But then again, we might not; and then, we're fucked. - Aquarius Records

Thomas Köner: Novaya Zemlya

Novaya Zemlya 1 Thomas Köner 11'22''
Novaya Zemlya 2 Thomas Köner 12'51''
Novaya Zemlya 3 Thomas Köner 12'20''