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Lasse Marhaug - Tapes 1990-1999

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Artist: Lasse Marhaug

Album: Tapes 1990-1999

Label: Pica Disk

Review date: Apr. 2, 2008

Norway and “extreme” music. I know what you’re thinking: black metal. Well, this isn’t Lasse Marhaug’s lost “metal” archive. But the Norwegian noise architect – who’s been called the Nordic Merzbow – makes music as frosty, intense, and relentless as Burzum or Darkthrone. There’s something about the temporary, almost fragile form of magnetic tape that’s quite appealing. Everyone reading this can remember the simultaneous horror of a beloved recording being mangled by spools, even as we marvel at the fantastic, otherworldly sound the destruction created. (And yes, the metaphoric possibilities here are endless.)

Marhaug – who has received more notice of late, due to his involvement in ensembles like Ken Vandermark’s Territory Band – is a specialist in such experiments with loss and damage. This four-disc set (mostly solo Marhaug, though there are several tracks where he collaborates with folks like Bad Kharma) is no mere nostalgia trip, no exercise in wistful remembrance of some “good old days.” It’s fresh, disturbing, and very, very fun. Some tracks are cavernous, groaning, and sound like the end of all things. Others are more dense, playful, and referential, crammed with multiple sound sources piling into each other like highway wrecks. Muffled or blaring, percussive or spacious, hellish or more hellish. Some of it, like “Untitled #1,” is just unbelievably caustic and teeth-rattling – like Sheer Hellish Miasma but years earlier.

This is the kind of richly imagined music that powers up language, a sound so alien and so completely itself that its violence and unfamiliarity convey very direct and coherent, if improbable imagery. This is most true on the longer pieces, which sound to me like extended field recordings assembled in a land of angry machines – they shriek and drone in rapid shifts like two mechanized boxers. On tracks like “Noise Ninja,” Marhaug layers these effects and creates a towering edifice of noise.

But just as you start to appreciate the craft and the detail… POW! This stuff is just relentless, like a revenant howling to break free of its mechanized confines. “Untitled #4” sounds like mutant horns – shofars, a tag team of Albert Aylers, and a wheezing beer hall band – run through beat up analog processors. You almost feel sorry for the mutated source materials, so distorted and transformed that they sound like the aural equivalent of a disfigured corpse (for a quick study in effaced identity, listen to the old timey voices buried beneath “The Girl Who Always Eats Chocolate”). Listening to each of these hour-plus discs leaves you dizzy, but somehow energized by precisely the harshest moments: the huge chorus of struck metal on “Wish You a Merry Christmas,” locked into a construction-site drill riff, repeating endlessly in your skull; “More Guts Than Brains,” which is like a blast of glaring, harsh light after being entombed for a while; or the mutant industrial music, deconstructed and reassembled, of “Miss Plastic Murgatroid’s Red Metal Wet Dream” (all amplified metal, like rusty screwdrivers contact mic’d and used on excited strings and space fossils).

How, then, to make sense of five hours of noise that at times beggars description? The power, depth, craft, and vision of these pieces are impressive. Nothing about this music sounds dated, in fact. I guess if you wanted to sum it up, you could look to “Kommer og Gar,” which features a stilted voice quoting Baudelaire: “There is no forgiveness without bloodshed.” Then again, maybe it’s as simple as the brief spasm on the final disc, aptly entitled “I Like Violence.”

By Jason Bivins

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