1981. Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is released. Despite modest box office returns, the film is a cult phenomenon. It serves to canonize the cabin-in-the-woods phenomenon as a staple of horror cinema for years to come. Twenty-five years later, the trope would find itself used for even darker purposes as Justin Vernon would create the cabin-in-the-woods indie music that would propel him to stratospheric heights.

Perhaps Breathe Owl Breathe is a sign of something far more ominous lurking in the basements of cabins-in-the-woods throughout America. Perhaps the folksy throb of Passage of Pegasus contains ancient Kandarian rites not spoken in 3,000 years. Is “Explorer,” with its offbeat proclivities, a call for the dead to rise from their graves?

I comb through the album, searching for sinister passages layered beneath the gentle percussion and finger-picked guitar. I note the baritone of Micah Middaugh and slip into a trance-like state. I dream of the National’s vocalist tucking me into bed for “the eternal slumber.” His words, not mine. He places a kiss on my forehead and turns to smoke.

When I awake, the world is black. Middaugh’s low rumble fades out, conforming to inhuman – though not unpleasant – tones. The soaring background vocals of “Two Moths” radiate outward and piercing. I feel something strange as the final drone of the song ceases. My body begins to vibrate at 100,000 Hz and I have become music itself. But it is not long before I come crashing back to earth. I reach up and hit play again.

By Aaron J. Marko

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