On Monstrance (TOUCH TO:88), we hear the inspired team-up of Mika Vainio (from Pan Sonic) with Joachim Nordwall (from Skull Defekts). I say inspired because it’s arguable that both of these death-dealing noise beasts have exhibited a life-long interest in realising highly effective sonic results while using a bare minimum of methodologies – not that I really have any clear idea what these methods may be. Broadly, I associate Pan Sonic and Panasonic before them with a sort of desperate and shrill howlage created out of an electronic saucepan set to simmer, and sustained for long and intolerable periods in a blatant attempt to destroy the listener. Skull Defekts have also wished to crush the audience, but they do it by means of loud amplification and adding illegal amounts of digital reverb to their hideous electric filth, which may either have been salvaged from the garbage tubs of INA-GRM and EMS, or simply generated out of feedback. Given their shared penchant for death and destruction, you’d think they would have collaborated sooner, although it seems their diaries are so full that they only managed to meet for a single day in Berlin in 2010, when these seven tracks were recorded. I think it’s especially interesting that they’re partially going for a “rock” sound on this album – Vainio with the electric guitar, Nordwall with the electric bass. One might be tempted to look for a Sunn O))) resemblance, but Mika and Joachim don’t “riff” like arm-swinging robed monks, not even in slow motion, and instead create a fascinating combination of thick bass throbbings cut with icy steel-like details wrenched from a trebly garage guitar. Of course there’s also a fair amount of feedback droning, perhaps created from the Hammond Organ or general application of electronics and processing to amplified feedback, but once again this mighty dronery is executed with a precision and deathly cold that none of these sludge-influenced avant-metal bands can seem to manage.

We also have the presence of “metal objects” and “metallic percussion” 1 played by the duo, a metallurgic theme which is picked up by most of the track titles 2 – for example ‘Alloy Ceremony’, ‘Live at the Chrome Cathedral’, ‘Promethium’, ‘In Sheltering Sanctus of Minerals’ – titles which suggest our friends are playing the “sonic alchemy” card, and that they see their work as fundamentally transformative. I have remarked recently on the use of this tiresome “alchemy” cliché, but I’ll make allowances when faced with this professionally executed and massive large-scale music, whose attractive surfaces generally ease the pain and discomfort of being smothered alive in a gas chamber while being flattened by a block of lead the size of a house. I’ll concede that some of the tracks do buck this “death by heavy weight” trend; ‘Midas In Reverse’ is a zero-temperature spacey episode with frozen daggers sailing through the air in a very minimal setting; one suspects Mika took control for this part of the session. ‘Irkutsk’ is a metal-hammering classic offset with a mean and moody bass guitar, which is deliciously disjointed even if it lacks the clarity of purpose with which Z’EV might have approached the job. And ‘Promethium’ is so understated it feels like the poor cousin of the other elephantine tracks, with its tentative scrape, slide and rattle effects which don’t amount to much more than skilled doodling. No matter, since more than half of the album delivers the goods – powerful, airless metal drone with expertly burnished surfaces and creating an unforgettable effect on the body and mind. From 01 July 2013.

  1. Natch, Merzbow is one who’s pretty notorious for generating noise from lumps of metal in some way. This Monstrance record is about as un-Merzbow like as could be; the pair of them are far too controlling to let rip with the madness of a Pulse Demon.
  2. And the album title itself, which refers to the receptacle for the host in Catholic liturgy; often this piece of church plate is gold plated and richly ornamented.