Black Merlin – Proto World (Berceuse Heroique)
When it comes to my personal musical tastes, the bit of my brain which should be going in for the more experimental and thematic sounds out there is a little bit under developed. It is a weird kink which has often been useful in weeding out stuff that fails to register anything more than a vague buzz of interest when a producer appears to be more mouth than anything else, but at other times, such as with outfits like Autechre or Drexciya, it has almost cost me dear, and left me red-faced and playing catch up when I’ve finally got it.
Black Merlin’s Proto World is less mind-splittingly alien than either of those acts, and indeed much of the influence upon the EP appears to drain from a more ‘conventional’ reservoir, from EBM to something more tribal, and in towards the inky intellectualism of modern classical’s internalized symphonies. But while the record runs parallel to a lot of the darker and less dance-floor centric sounds which have bloomed over the last few years, it maintains a stark level of individualism which fuels a rugged sense of tone. It never really feels like a kindred spirit to that end of the scene. Perhaps because, at heart, it retains a somewhat grainier feel, one that lends it the wider scope of non electronic sound, it is a difficult record to both place and maybe even love. Not that I think that would bother it very much because Proto World seems determined to create for itself a niche in which its strangely lithe heaviness can fill entirely on its own.
One thing is for sure: it takes no prisoners. The title track, a long unfurling of tribalist drums, serrated shavings of synths and murmured bursts of vocals, swings out with cold focus and a swaggering, hypnotic, meanness. There are moments which evoke such disparate forerunners as Container’s blistering take of techno, and the sound track to Kurosawa’s Ran, and indeed that second one contains a similar taste as Proto Word has for emotional weight combined with moments of empty space which serve to accent the turmoil. Vision Animal also invites comparisons with Container. I suspect this is less to do with the music and more with the way in which both artists seem to be separated from the pack. Vision Animal is a lesson in reduction, with the slender elements coaxed and lengthened, stretched until they fill the track’s grandiose nothingness.
In fact, it’s this billowing space which defines the tracks, and the way in which the sonic movement each contains – the way the slivers of sound, and their firmer, more insistent bedfellows cajole each other into emphasising the nothingness which surrounds them – adds to Proto World a thick, dreamlike quality which is uneasily compelling. You can feel this best in Spirit House, where the all but inaudible drag of the bass lays across the tune’s route of approach, forcing the fluttering non-melody out into the expansive wastes which lie about it.
So, not an easy record to love, at least at first and probably ever. I’m not sure that matters. It certainly isn’t the point. Esoteric angles, and weird geometry inform the music’s foundations out there in the nothing. The strength of its other-worldliness is all the stronger for the way in which it never tries to be wilfully, deliberately out there. It never tries to coax you into vapidly agreeing with its individuality. It simply picks you up and deposits you in the darkness. And while I’m still not sure my brain is attuned enough to properly get it, I’ll have plenty of time to think about it as I try to find my way home.