Noise heavyweights Merzbow and Nordvargr collaborate on Cold Spring
This album, the third in a trilogy, is what I like to call a musical reach around, with each artist using the other’s work as source material.
Nordvargr (Henrik Nordvargr Björkk) is a long serving stalwart of the post-industrial noise scene, with numerous aliases and various different styles, including ambient black metal. Despite his being named “the most important artist in noise”, I’ve struggled a bit in the past with the hugely prolific Merzbow. There’s a bit of a quality control issue around a lot of his stuff and I find it pretty hit or miss, the live recording of him with Sonic Youth being a high point.
It starts off promisingly with Nordvargr ushering in some nice techno rhythmics and shuffly beats layered over some Merzbow noise. However, the first track fails to excite really. There are some good ideas here but a lot more could have been done with them and the basic structure doesn’t work.
Next up, Lorentz Covariance begins very well indeed, initially offering a more ambient counterpoint to the first number. However, the noise quickly builds in a freeform way – a good crescendo – before tailing away very nicely indeed to the underlying rhythmical elements.
Track three, Submaton Color 1 is a meaty big number, with a repetitive analogue synth line and rather haunting guitar-like drones. It’s a decent length which means you can get quite sucked in but by the end I found the analogue synth was starting to grate.
Submaton Color 2 is clearly a continuation of the previous track, but quickly gets rid of the rhythmical synth in favour of more straight digital noise and plenty of reverb. It feels a bit like some enormous industrial complex winding down, with sirens and layers of machine noise, and reminds me a little of Atari Teenage Riot’s famous noise set at the Brixton academy. By the end of its 16 minutes, somehow its developed a kind of epic vibe and has that great quality that a lot of good noise has: it makes you feel as you’ve been through something really tough but come out the other end cathartically cleansed. Like climbing up some fucking awful mountain in the rain but by the time you get to the top the sun is out and you feel great.
I’m not familiar with the first two records in this series but I can’t help but feel this third one is a slightly disappointing release. Two of the tracks are pretty good but two aren’t exactly ‘keepers’. And even one of the better ones, Submaton Color 2 has, to be honest, some elements that are a bit hard to love.
I may be being a bit hard but I somehow expect something more from two such experienced artists. This patchy album feels a little like a missed opportunity and Merzbow in particular continues to tread water. Ultimately, this is one for the fans.
Heterotic String Hybrid
Submaton Color Pt. 1
Submaton Color Pt. 2