“Permafrost” by Thomas Köner

The shadowy final part of Thomas Köner's epic tryptich.


‘Permafrost’, which was originally issued in 1993, marked the conclusion of Thomas Köner’s epic and influential trilogy which included ‘Nunatak’ and ‘Teimo’. Darker and even more subdued and minimal than its predecessors, ‘Permafrost’ is for many the pinnacle of Köner’s early work. This was the album where he truly stripped the sound back to the bare essentials; gone were the hints of harmony found in ‘Teimo’ and the discernable gong sounds of ‘Nunatak’. All that remained were the deep, shadowy resonances, roomy ambience and gaseous drones that would become Köner’s calling card in the ‘dark ambient’ genre.

Listening to the record almost twenty years after its creation, the most shocking thing is how little it has aged. Its sound is so absolutely other worldly – the creeping low-end rumbles, distant icy tonal blasts and croaking occidental winds – that it contextualizes the record with little else composed. Sure there have been countless attempts at creating supposed alien soundtracks to one imagined movie or another, but rarely have others come close to expressing the truly haunting unknown as Thomas Köner did on ‘Permafrost’.

The restraint Köner shows is his true skill – there are few other records that use silence (or near silence) so effectively. The quieter passages are used to enhance the terrifying thrill of the more abrasive, rumbling peaks and the result is an enviable narrative of unfaltering power. For instrumental music, ambient or otherwise, ‘Permafrost’ is an essential piece of listening. The word ‘classic’ can be bandied about all too much these days but twenty years later, ‘Permafrost’ is just as powerful as it ever was, and still absolutely unmatched in its quality.