Scott Walker & Sunn O))) – Soused
Experimental metal record at times fails to strike balance between two distinguished musicians
The pairing of hallowed avant-gardist Scott Walker with subterranean metal overlords Sunn O))) was first mooted when the former was asked to appear on the latter’s Monoliths & Dimensions. This tantalising prospect did not materialise at the time, but may have inspired the doom-metal elements that peppered Walker’s last opus, Bish Bosch, and has now culminated in this meeting of twisted minds.
Surprisingly, first track ‘Brando’ is disarmingly bright in its opening moments, with Walker offering an optimistic vocal flurry over major chords and birdcall-as-heavy-metal trills. But this is just a feint, and it soon sinks into traditional Sunn O))) tar, with Walker’s wails becoming increasingly desperate. It’s also illustrative of a recurring problem with Soused.
Sunn O)))’s previous vocalists, be it Attila Csihar’s diabolical intoning or the celestial radiance of Jessika Kenney, were deployed texturally, complementing Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s oppressive sludge. Walker’s clear voice and arcane, riddle-laden lyrics, on the other hand, are so central to his aesthetic that a compromise is necessary. Yet perhaps it has gone too far as the guitars seem neutered while Walker’s voice is foregrounded to an uncomfortable degree.
Two of the five tracks strike a better balance. ‘Bull’, a nigh-industrial stomp propelled by cardboard box drums, is pleasing in its eccentricity and disjointedness. Walker is beautifully integrated into the mayhem, which eventually flows into a protean instrumental drone. Originally written for Ute Lemper’s Punishing Kiss project in 2000, closer ‘Lullaby’ will be familiar to Walker acolytes, but perhaps not in this startling new form. Sunn O)))’s smouldering magma serves as background texture rather than competing for dominance with Walker’s voice, and the explosion of discord is a hellish variation upon the original’s ominous elegance.
While, on paper, these two wielders of the dark flame complement each other perfectly, this is at times an awkward pairing with Sunn O))) often subsumed into and overwhelmed by Walker’s aesthetic. And his more outré tendencies seem reined in by his collaborators’ long-form linearity and drone-faithfulness.