Merzbow + HEXA Achromatic

[Dais; 2018]

Styles: noise
Others: Merzxiu, Keiji Haino, Kevin Drumm, Wolf Eyes, Prurient

Achromatic is a black mass of sound, just like the title promises, but with sharp, bright figures cutting through the noise like a snippet of radio caught during a lull in a tornado. Those familiar with the variously damaged sounds of the three collaborators’ solo work won’t be surprised by this mix of full-on audial chaos with subtle melodic touches. HEXA is Lawrence English and Jamie Stewart, and their most recent respective albums, Cruel Optimism and An Aggressive, Chain Smoking Alcoholic, both rely on similar intermittent hints of beauty amid otherwise bleak and violent soundscapes. Even Merzbow, whose reputation for abrasiveness is unparalleled this side of harsh noise, has hinted at a melody on occasion, even if by accident.

The collaboration came about after English and Stewart, having finished their soundtrack for David Lynch’s stark series of photographs of abandoned factories titled Factory Photographs, wanted to explore new “sonic architectures” with someone equally dedicated to the physical aspects of extreme volumes and frequencies. Merzbow, who had previously collaborated with Stewart for Merzxiu and booked shows with English, was the obvious choice. Extending the architectural metaphor, we could say that they inhabit a brutalist environment on Achromatic, one that is desolate, inhuman, and monolithic.

HEXA and Merzbow mix and produce one another’s sides on Achromatic, with English and Stewart taking on production duties for the “Merzhex” suite and Merzbow returning the favor for the 18-minute “Hexamer.” “Merzhex Part 1” opens the record with a blisteringly high-frequency squeal that’s thankfully replaced 30 seconds in with a thundering bass pulse. This is music you feel in your bones, and such transitions trigger an instinctively physical relief. Within the distressing atmospheres of the “Merzhex” suite are oddly compelling fragments that elicit repeat listens; something approaching a melody floats by in the right channel during “Merzhex Part 3,” and a persistent siren sound throughout “Merzhex Part 4” earns it the designation of the album’s catchiest track. “Hexamer” has fewer of the extreme frequencies found on Side A, instead conjuring a seemingly haunted thunderstorm out of static and roaring gulfs of reverb.

As Lester Bangs so eloquently explained, “the shriek, the caterwaul, the chainsaw gnarlgnashing, the yowl and the whizz that decapitates may be reheard by the adventurous or emotionally damaged as mellifluous bursts of unarguable affirmation.” Achromatic features more than enough yowling and whizzing for those among us who need to mainline pure, unadulterated noise. But there is just enough variety in this noise, just enough light in the darkness, like the sliver that runs down the cover’s ominous black square, to welcome listeners who are not yet so adventurous. Think of these moments as the splashes of paint on Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation, hinting at a human impulse in the midst of a vast, impersonal, brutalist sonic architecture.

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