Sunn O))), Scott Walker join forces and create disturbing, dark collaboration on ‘Soused’

Sunn WalkerWhen people think of daring collaborations involving metal artists and those outside that circle, most people’s minds likely will turn to the unmitigated disaster that was “Lulu.” Even the idea of Metallica and Lou Reed working together seemed like a bad concept before the final product came down, but people with the highest of hopes perhaps thought it could transform Metallica’s creativity. Yeah, not quite.

There have been plenty of other times when metal artists reached outside their boundaries to create something new (Merzbow’s many collaborations in the scene, Boris’ criminally under-appreciated project with Ian Astbury), but sadly the bloated corpse “Lulu” likely always will be the thing that rises to the top of the conversation. But maybe that doesn’t always have to be that way. Maybe we can change that talking point. I offer a new touchstone in the stunning new combination of doom-drone warriors Sunn O))) and former-teen-heartthrob-turned-avant-garde-artist Scott Walker on the incredible “Soused.” Now, here’s one that on the surface already brims with promise. Yet, you have to hear this thing to truly appreciate the melding of the minds and to experience the unexpected results of these two forces coming together. If you’re expecting Walker’s confrontational, warbling voice over a basic Sunn O))) record, prepare to have your mind blown. It isn’t that at all. Yeah, sure, you do get waves of it here and there, but it isn’t the dominant trait. Instead, each side works with each other, coloring and expressing what comes to heart and mind, and forming a different machine than what may have expected. It’s unbelievably exciting but also frightening at the same time.

Sunn Walker coverAs for Sunn O))), Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson are no strangers to collaboration, having released a set this year with Nordic dreamers Ulver and also having worked with the likes of Boris and Nurse With Wound. They obviously bring the thunder and smoke to this thing, but they also show more flexibility and out-of-the-box thinking than ever before. And these aren’t exactly guys who stick to a script. As for Walker (real name Noel Scott Engel), this is yet the next step on the experimental trail for the 71-year-old singer. Having initially made his mark in the pop realm in the 1960s with the Walker Brothers (along with John Maus as John Walker), he’s carved out a career later in his life as a daring, ambitious, even uncomfortable artist, finding even more acclaim and adulation with his last two surreal, menacing records “The Drift” (2006) and “Bish Bosch” (2012). This union makes all the sense in the world, and the excitement drummed up before this record was released is matched and surpassed now that the music is in our hearts and haunting our dreams.

Opener “Brando” is inspired by actor Marlon Brando, and it opens with Walker’s operatic-style crooning ripping the lid right off. He’s joined by warm guitar lines that actually sound inviting, but that doesn’t last long, and the drone curtain drops heavily and lets extreme darkness envelop that area, while Walker goes on to poke, “A beating would do me a world of good.” Along with his lines of tribute, a bull whip cracks in the background, guitars stab and taunt, and a strange noise almost like whistling add to the odd environment. The drone rises up again at the end, with Walker calling, “I’m down on my knees,” before the sound finally dissipates. “Herod 2014” is an ominous one, with bells chiming and an effect that sounds like a propeller in motion. “She’s hidden her babies away,” Walker wails, as drone fires up in spots and horns tease the tension. There is some incredible wordplay by Walker on this one, especially lines such as, “Bubonic, blue blankets, run ragged with church mice,” delivered with equal amounts of playfulness and dread. The song is eerie and full of danger, and it’ll stick with you long after it ends.

“Bull” blows open from the start, and oddly enough, it has a conventional rock feel to it for its first minute or so. Eventually things melt down, noise begins to whir heavily, and Walker sings over the murk, urging, “Keep moving on,” while the violence swells in the background. The last few minutes of the song let the doom rise and waft, retching and smothering until it finally comes to its end. “Fetish” is a confrontational one, with Walker barking, “Red, blade points knife the air,” with horns snaking behind the terror and horrifying sounds making the picture even more nightmarish. The narration is coolly crooned, while industrial huffing creates even more tension and abuse. The drone hits again, with a tremendous psychotic breakdown giving way and the guitars working back to drill hard. The tempo and power rise and fall in the final minutes, with Walker’s singing allowing everything to fade away. Closer “Lullaby” helps whatever hairs that haven’t risen to this point stand at attention. Walker matter-of-factly notes, “Tonight, my assistant will pass among you, his cap will be empty.” There is an uncomfortable calm and deranged music setting the scene, but when Walker howls, “Lullaby!” it gets ever chillier. The song progresses back and forth, always circling to its beginning and taking another run through the mist, and the track and record finish with noisy chirps and Walker’s singing standing as the last thing you hear.

For fans of Sunn O))) or Walker, this is a must-hear record, the combination of two great forces that make magical, terrifying things happen together. If you’re not familiar with one or either and don’t have daring tastes, this will be a tough listen similar to being beaten down in a pool of your own blood. But hey, maybe a beating will do you some good. “Soused” will prod, poke, agitate, and offend, and certainly this union wouldn’t have it any other way. This is the epitome of collaborative art, and a chance to give two equally dynamic artistic giants a chance to melt together and bleed for us all.

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