Sun Baked Snow Cave is a collaborative album by the Japanese artists Boris and Merzbow. Boris is known for their prolific experimentation within doom metal-drone-noise rock boundaries, and Merzbow is probably the best known name in noise. Any piece of music that is released as a result of these two forces meeting should be handled with a mind as open as possible.
Already this is sounding like an hour of static and samples of screeching nails on chalkboards. Those suspicions can be laid to rest right now. Noise doesn't have to be harsh, and this is one of Boris' gentle albums. In fact, it is one of the most gentle albums I have heard, at least for the first twenty minutes or so. It becomes quite a different entity in the middle, but returns to its roots before all is said and done. Be aware though: to the uninitiated this can be a strange journey.
Sun Baked Snow Cave is long, quiet, and minimalist. The first ten minutes feature a sad and lonely acoustic guitar strumming four two-note chords over and over. There is no accompaniment. The music plays slow, ponderously, with weighty pauses. After ten minutes, there is a longer pause, and out of the silence floats a dull, soft growl. This is the beginning of a presence that lasts throughout the rest of the album. Merzbow's contribution is not made with guitar or piano, but with an array of strange ambient noises. To get a full experience from the album one must give equal weight to the noise and the more classic kind of music. It's easy to dismiss or forget about Merzbow at this point, but after a few listens it becomes evident that something is missing that doesn't need to be.
From approximately the 17 minute mark to the 34 minute mark, the Merzbow background noise becomes more prominent. It swells from a collection of snaps crackles and pops to a thick and heavy droning blanket. This low droning is, in all probability, a Boris contribution, but it floods in and blends with the surrounding noises and incorporates them into itself. Boris and Merzbow are no longer immediately discernible; they have become a grotesque rat king. Yes, in the intervening time the mood has dramatically shifted. The sparse dropping snowflakes of the introduction are gone, and what lies in its place is a noxious mire, full of bloated, cancerous trees and blind, wretched monsters. The acoustic guitar stopped long ago, though there is a sort of dialog through the muck between the flurry of noise and the sound of a strange, whining guitar.
Sun Baked Snow Cave, at this stage, may seem familiar to some. The presence of intangible noise shrouded around a solo guitar ululating and howling evokes memories of a similar album, the inexplicably parenthetically-titled (No Pussyfooting). It was Fripp & Eno on this one, but there are parallels to be drawn between that partnership and this one. Brian Eno and Merzbow both handled the electronic halves of the albums, and Robert Fripp's wandering guitar is not a far cry from what Boris brought. Sun Baked Snow Cave is a single piece of music; one track, 62 minutes. (No Pussyfooting) has seven tracks, but only two songs (divided into parts), and the album is nearly 40 minutes long.
Past 35 minutes, the noise half of the album leaps from the ocean of guitar drone and seeks to make its presence known. This is where all vestiges of gentleness are abandoned. Merzbow takes center stage and the listener is suffocated under a locust swarm of splintered chattering, shimmering hissing, and pulsing rumbles. The best way to appreciate it is to treat every sound as unique. When you go to an orchestra, part of the pleasure is watching the musicians as their instrument enters into the piece, and acknowledging the difference it makes by being there. Treat the soundscape of noise the same way. It is a piece of music, made up of small individual sounds. Enjoy each one and the effects it has on the overall piece. Does a certain noise hurt your ears? That is intentional, and is a big part of the concept of harsh/extreme music. It was placed in the piece to hurt your ear, to evoke feelings of discomfort much like an exceptionally violent painting should. Sun Baked Snow Cave, with its quiet beginnings and slow build, is an impressive introduction to the world of noise.
The expanse of noise is fearsome but relatively short, and in less than five minutes it dissipates back into the background. The guitar that had been drowned out makes a return at the 44 minute mark. A restful set of chords like the ones at the end of the classic Boris album Flood echo out, and the sense of a settling storm takes over. Things are winding down. Indeed, the noises in the background remind of howling wind and foamy, broken waves. The guitars grow more prominent, and the only real change for the next twelve minutes is in the background. The watery sounds become clouds of electronic gnats, metallic humming walls, and undergo all manner of transformations, trying to find its most peaceful state. The cave seals.
The album art was done by Stephen O'Malley of SUNN 0))) and Southern Lord Records, and features a abstract mess of collapsing geometric shapes and formless splashes of black, white, and teal.
1. Sun Baked Snow Cave (62:02)
Sun Baked Snow Cave - Boris/Merzbow - 2005 - Hydra Head Records>