A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Merzbow Monday: Merzbow vs Nordvargr – Partikel III (Cold Spring) album review

Two masters of noise, experimental electronics, and dark ambiance come together for a third collaboration, a highlight of both of their monolithic discographies.

Merzbow is often at his best when working with others. Maybe it’s because he has to rein in his sometimes batshit, spastic tendencies that make Mike Patton seem like a paragon of focus. Or maybe it’s the necessity to create a framework over which his trademarked batallions of static wind, brutalist electronics, and disorienting digital post-processing on top of. Whatever the reasons, some of Merzbow’s collaborations, like his work with Boris for instance, remain high water marks of his bottomless back catalog.

Partikel III is one such example. It’s one of the best Merzbow albums i’ve heard in a hot minute, created in conjunction with 21st-Century Dark Ambient master Henrik Nordvargr Björkk, better known as Nordvargr. Partikel III is the third collaboration between these two titans, but i’ve not yet heard the first two volumes in the series. Partikel III is some of the best i’ve heard from either, though.

Maybe it’s cheating or cheap to say that Merzbow’s at his best when he’s the most accessible. It somewhat hints at some of the paradoxes of noise music, which is designed to be confrontational and uncomfortable. Is it fulfilling its function when noise is pleasant to listen to? Or is it just “selling out” and going POP? Valid questions, all, but it does take a peculiar form of musical masochist to listen to sounds they legitimately don’t enjoy. That’s not really my interest in the genre, per se. I’m more interested in the transmutation of non-musical sounds into bizarre new instruments and incorporating new forms and structures, veering away from the tyranny of POP A-B-A omniscience.

All of which are well on display on Partikel III.

Partikel III (CSR180CD) by Merzbow Vs Nordvargr

“Heterotic String Hybrid” kicks things off with a hypnotic machine rhythm, most likely courtesy of Nordvargr – all clinical Autechre-like post-industrialism, with occasional moments of Muslimgauze thrown in – over which Masami Akita leaves a smudge of dirty dithering digital noise. The beats fall away relatively quickly, leaving only a morass of atonal beeps and bleeps, like a warning siren from some submersible. Which, in and of itself, gives way to some digital dithering and loping machine beats, like being sucked into some fax machine and whiskey away to some machine shop hell.

Partikel III (CSR180CD) by Merzbow Vs Nordvargr

“Lorentz Covariance” develops similarly, with an even more spartan beat, but quickly veers more into Dark Ambient territory of Nordvargr than Merzbow’s usual power electronics. This alone makes “Lorentz Covariance” a standout track from his endless discography and makes for a nice entrypoint if yr more familiar with drone or dark ambient than power electronics or HNW. Things don’t stay too subdued for too long, though, with the sombre shadows giving way to an alien invasion of UFO oscillators and sub-tectonic rumbles. It sounds like some cyber-hippies holding a ritual in some haunted house to summon the Grays, who appear and rip a hole into hell.

the sombre shadows giving way to an alien invasion of UFO oscillators and sub-tectonic rumbles. It sounds like some cyber-hippies holding a ritual in some haunted house to summon the Grays, who appear and rip a hole into hell.

The final two tracks, “Submaton Color Pt. 1” and “Submaton Color Pt. 2” are formed around Merzbow’s noise, making for a half-hour extended meditation as sounds gradually accumulate, beginning with a trancy hypnotic machine bassline over which distant sirens weave in and out, like listening to air raid sirens from some subterranean bunkers. “Submaton” isn’t quite as engaing as the first two tracks but it’s still a heady space-out, less abrasive and antagonistic than what you normally get from Masami Akita.

Partikel III is an example of what’s possible when two masters, and i don’t use that term lightly, of their craft get together. Every sound – every scrape, every beat, every bleep – is lovingly polished to perfection, some of the finest mixing and mastering i’ve ever heard on a noise album. It lets you fall completely under Partikel III‘s spell, fillng your mind with all manner of disorienting poetic visions.

Partikel III (CSR180CD) by Merzbow Vs Nordvargr

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