A soothing wall of sound
Merzbow has historically been one of the hardest nuts to crack in the world of modern music. His relentless, often static output, has made him one of the most prolific and recognizable noise artists in the mainstream. His fans and contemporaries often list him as the great master of Japanoise, and find great value in the screaming static wash releases like Tauromachine and Pulse Demon provide. Detractors will usually point to a number of issues with his releases, not the least of which is consistency due to the unbelievable amount of material he has released. However, both detractors and fans can agree on the consistent excellence provided by his collaborative projects like Merzbow and Full of Hell, Merzxiu and Klatter. This trend of excellence continues on his latest collaboration with HEXA (Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu and Lawrence English) which showcases a softer, more ambient side of Merzbow’s signature sonic assault.
Straight off the jump it’s apparent that this is not going to be your standard ambient album, but a well versed listener likely could have grabbed that critical detail from the artists on the record. In much the same way, it’s clear that this is not a typical Merzbow release. “Merzhex Part 1” excellently showcases the elements that will make up the record. The trademark static whine and distant crackle of Merzbow is right in front of the listener before it fades into a cathartic softness. HEXA contributes a slow, cool backing to each track that surgically intermingles with the unending static howl of Merzbow’s contribution. In essence this track (and the remaining Merzhex tracks by proxy) exhibits Merzbow at his most approachable, despite being largely untamed.
“Merzhex Part 4” is by far the standout of the record in this regard. It allows Merzbow space to breathe his alien synth hurricane all across the track while HEXA provides a path for it to carry along. Roiling synths don’t feel unbound and untethered in the same way that they did on 2016s sloppy “Gensho” or aimless as they do on “Pulse Demon;” instead, the oozy, ambient drone grounds the track and builds into the raging static instead of mindlessly thrusting you into hell.
The long and short of it can be summed up as follows, this is one of the most important and successful collaborative albums of the year. No qualifiers need be added. This surpasses noise, and is, by a mile, the easiest way for someone to get into Merzbow without giving them a buttoned up, “soft” version as is seen on Merzbow & Full of Hell. This album refuses to give a single inch or quarter for either band, the sounds dance and merge and blend and fight beautifully. This is a masterclass in noise and ambient and anyone traipsing along the path of experimental music needs to sit down and listen to it yesterday.