Merzbow & Lawrence English : Eternal Stalker

Merzbow Lawrence English Eternal Stalker review

It comes in like a rotting wind. These textures are not atypical for Lawrence English, an accomplished sound sculptor, but the level of restraint shown here is seemingly atypical of Merzbow, at least to those who don’t keep up with his frankly staggering level of releases. Despite his reputation as the ambassador of noise—often the first artist people are introduced to within the genre space—and his associations with harsh noise walls and the like, the past five or so years have seen Merzbow teaming with everything from free jazz duos to the increasingly ruminative Boris, dialing into more subtle and poetic expressions of noise rather than the blistering psychedelic assaults he was best known for from decades of work. An entire series of essays could be written about perceptions of Merzbow’s work, how the longer one sits with it the more the wheel turns from wonder to frustration to dismissal back to love, on and on; but this is not a piece on Merzbow as an artist but Eternal Stalker as a record.

There is wetness here, a haggard browning rain, like grime-ridden water sluiced off of a rusting roof. You can smell diesel and molding carpet and rotting wood; while there is an underlying humanity to industrial poverty, a spirit that refuses to die, this is not the sound of that spirit but instead the ravenous capitalist decay that seeks to vampirically drain the humanity from those environs. We must be thankful for the extensive notes this record comes with. Knowing that it was largely sourced from sound samples taken at an industrial park and factory underscores this sensation given off from Eternal Stalker in great pestilential clouds, confirms the intent of this hateful image. English provides the samples and general shape of the piece while Merzbow, similar to his recent role in collaborations with Boris or with the jazz trio that comprises him, Mats Gustafsson and Malazs Pandi, adjusts the atmosphere. Given Merzbow’s increased bluntness regarding the role veganism and anti-capitalism play in his creative vision, going so far as to label a recent record from this year Animal Liberation – Until Every Cage Is Empty, it is hardly a stretch to imagine the Australian anti-capitalist sentiment of English found common resonance with Merzbow, that this sense of rot was a deliberate affect.

What is perhaps most surprising is how gentle this record is, especially compared to what one might expect given the names on the tin. The rotting wind threatens, batters your window, but does not erupt. It never loses its capacity to erupt; the threat lingers, reeling back as if to prepare for the fatal blast of violent noise before instead resettling into the pervasive numbing hiss of foul rain. Even when a burst of sound comes near the very end of the record, it doesn’t feel like the eruption that is threatened. This, too, feels deliberate. Often, especially with leftist art, we see apocalyptic imagery, wild sonic violence meant to represent the wickedness of fascism and oppressive violence assaulting our world both from the outside as well as gestating in our own slow-rotting hearts. But this apocalyptic fervor doesn’t match the real shape of wickedness of the world. We are rarely given the catharsis of war, at least war as we imagine it; instead, there is only erosion, slow death, disease that lingers for years and kills over a million with little to even indicate their loss, displaced wars raging across the planet with thousands and millions dead but no signifier of their deaths save for mild fluctuations at the gas pump. We read of horror in elementary schools and foreign homes in complete dissociation; it is an act of psychological war to remain emotionally connected to this pervasive violence without giving in to either psychic numbness or reactionary belief.

So, it rains. It rains and it rains and it rains. The wind hisses and howls through the machines that clog that sky and violate the air with the poison that will bake us all to death. Global warming is the slowest death, less than a degree difference a year, until one day the crops fail and the air is poison and our children’s children choke to death. The gentility of Eternal Stalker reflects a far more somber and nihilistic sense of violence than a petulant outburst ever could. This is not the blackened art of angry children. This is the sobering prophecy of doom from people who have seen the generations before them, of them and after them try and fail to alter the course of a dying planet. You could even play a jazz record over it, turn Eternal Stalker down low and let trumpets and bebop drums skitter and croon over it to distract you from what’s outside the window. The nominal reference to the Tarkovsky film makes sense; that too was a slow and terrifying look into how the nuclear waste of the modern world mirrors a sense of inescapable doom, a spiral we seem to have been locked in since World War I if not the industrial revolution. That we can make these linkages of this type of art across time is itself terrifying, an indication that these things are in some way inescapable. What an utterly harrowing listen.

Label: Room 40

Year: 2022

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