Merzbow / Marhaug - Mer Mar [Editions Mego - 2012]Merzbow and Lasse Marhaug, both prophets of noise music in their respective countries of Japan and Norway, have been collaborating and doing splits now and then for a long time, first on Marhaug's own label Jazzassin then on various others. I do believe this is their first "proper" studio collaboration though, as "Mar Mer" was recorded (live?) in a studio in Tokyo in 2010, and it's released by Editions Mego.
The artwork is very misleading and makes me think of boring chin-stroking laptop music for people who read The Wire, but in the end it's very elegant and fitting with the label's tradition. Mego is not really known for being an outlet for harsh noise, with a few exceptions like Kevin Drumm's excellent "Sheer Hellish Miasma" CD so this collaboration LP/mp3 release is a welcome addition to their roster and surely one of the few things I would pick up from their catalog.
Thinking about the label's past I was expecting something mellow and easy, ambient music even, but the Japanese/Norwegian duo preferred, much to my pleasure, to kick ass with metal junk and synth-driven noise - a thing both artists can do very well as you may know.
The first side starts with "Mar" which opens with raw junk metal manipulation, a buzzing and pulsating synth and a crude mass of distortion and feedback. The quasi-quiet simple junk metal sounds are seldom buried under a cascade of crunchy distortion while an annoying synth loop keeps on pulsating, giving the piece air and a nice sensation of movement. The track proceeds with the same elements mixed in every possible way, with great variation and rhythm. It really sounds like the two guys had fun while recording this, even if I can picture Merzbow's extra-serious face in my mind. The noise here is very primal, basic and rough, which is something I didn't really expect from this duo. In conclusion, two thumbs up for side A!.
Side B, "Mer" starts with more dry junk metal bashing and light microphone feedback, interrupted by short bursts of distortion. Somehow the first few minutes reminded me of "No Sound" 7" by The Gerogerigegege, where Juntaro seemingly kicked stuff around a room. The start of "Mer" is very simple and restrained, yet pretty good if you like this kind of sound. It takes only a few minutes for distortion and layers of synth to be added, moving the target towards The New Blockaders' kind of material. Junk metal still reigns supreme while synth and distortion dwindle back and forth, much like it happened on side A, until a subtle drone kicks in and steel is substituted by more layers of delirious synth. The piece varieties again with a nice pulsating loop accompanied by a stream of mangled sounds that suddenly become sporadic. Side B then seems to slowly fade into oblivion while sounds get scarcer and scarcer, but a sudden sea of swooshing noise brings it back to life before an abrupt ending. As you can guess, the Mar-Mer duo doesn't disappoint on side B either.
While being very simple and clearly the fruit of a single session, "Mar Mer" is a successful match and a worthy addition to both Merzbow's and Marhaug's catalog. It's the quintessence of noise: two professionals that love the magic of the True Sound Of Love (cit.) get together and record what they can do best - a fucking big racket. The stripped down and focused nature of this recording and its will to variate and overlay instead of exaggerating with plain distortion calls to mind early pure noise works a-la TNB and the golden age of the 90s, which is a highly appreciated feeling for me.
I’ve listened to and reviewed quite a few works by Merzbow lately, after a quite long period where I didn't follow or check his releases much, and I must say I found him in much better shape than when I left him around the mid 2000s. He seems to be back to straight classic noise and at this point I'm curious to hear the next thousand albums he'll put out.
"Mar Mer" is highly recommended to fans of Lasse Marhaug's and Merzbow's work, but probably a bit less recommended to Mego regulars.Nicola Vinciguerra