Boris – Sun Baked Snow Cave

Sun Baked Snow Cave

At this point in the history of noise, if you don’t know who Merzbow is, you probably aren’t remotely familiar with the genre. The man known as Masami Akita practically invented the genre. Okay so that is definitely untrue, as recent compilations such as Sub Rosa’s An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music series provide compelling evidence that experimental recordings can be traced at least as far back as the 1930s, but he is the first name that comes to mind for most people when you use the word “noise.” While an individual could literally spend years trying to accumulate all of the various recordings he has done under the moniker, the Sun Baked Snow Cave collaboration with Boris is one of the most easily found and readily available thanks to the efforts of Hydra Head.

The record is essentially one long drone track. Fine, but the back cover appears to indicate “sections” of the piece to be regarded individually. Not one to make things easy on anyone, Merzbow has decided that if you want to listen to this beast you’re going to do it all at once or not at all. So pour yourself a drink, sit back, and prepare to indulge him for precisely one hour.

I love Merzbow and Boris just as much as the next person, but this particular team up doesn’t seem to employ much of the latter’s signature over-driven SunnO))) or blown-out Motorhead-style riffs, instead favoring Akita’s fixation on static-tearing drone and electronic hiccups. This is where the mash-up seems to fall terribly short. What good is a collaboration if you only hear the distinct influence of one of its artists? Boris contributes a simple finger-plucked acoustic guitar figure that begins the piece, a short down-tuned drone in the middle, and some meandering minor-key notes at the end, but the insect noises in the “A Boom Like a Chorus of Thousands of Cicadas Heard Under the Sun” excerpt is all Merzbow.

If all of this doesn’t sound terribly appealing to you, then maybe here is a good place for you to exit. On the other hand, if you enjoy your music harsh and uninviting like I do, then Sun Baked Snow Cave is at least worth an initial spin. The whirling electronic noise that initiates the album along with Boris’ gentle acoustic guitar make up the “Roar of a (Gigantic) Wheel as it Turns Uncontrollably” section. The bloated middle of the album is Merzbow deliberately trying to fuck shit up, which works both for and against him during this piece. When he’s supplementing Boris’ drone it makes sense, but when the whistling electric wind threatens to overtake Boris’ sludge, it comes dangerously close to sounding like two separate pieces being played simultaneously. Lastly, we have the quiet outro in which incidental guitar notes are played underneath Merzbow’s bleating crescendo into a crawling fade out.

So what it really comes down to is this: how much do you love Merzbow or Boris? Merzbow has hundreds of available releases. I really don’t see anything that sets this recording apart especially in light of relative classics like Venereology, Pulse Demon, 1930, Tauromachine, or Frog. Boris has some great records too; the band’s upcoming Southern Lord full-length Pink has already garned some rave reviews (rightly so), and Akuma No Uta is nothing to sneeze at either. The fruits of this collaboration aren’t bad, just possibly unnecessary. Another Boris/Merzbow collaboration can already be found in Megatone. I’d be very interested in hearing the results.