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Pan Gu - Primeval Man Born of the Cosmic Egg

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Artist: Pan Gu

Album: Primeval Man Born of the Cosmic Egg

Label: Utech

Review date: Mar. 13, 2013

It probably wasn’t its creators’ intention, but Primeval Man Born of the Cosmic Egg does go some way to addressing the creative cul-de-sac noise music has been heading into of late. Some artists, such as Dominick Fernow of Prurient and William Bennett of Cut Hands/Whitehouse, have looked to dance music as a way of reinvigorating their sound. Others, like Helm’s Luke Younger, have turned to avant-garde techniques and found sounds. As Pan Gu, Norwegian harsh noise veteran Lasse Marhaug has teamed up with Singaporean musician Leslie Low, bringing together their two sensitivities to result in something that transcends noise conventions as well as geographic divide. Primeval Man Born of the Cosmic Egg may be inspired by a Chinese creation myth, but what’s most fascinating is not the nods in the album’s artwork to images of the primeval man who formed the earth, sky, sun, moon and everything else (although it’s certainly an intriguing departure point), but how the two musicians interact with each other.

Approaching any album created by Marhaug tends to come with expectations of harshness, but Primeval Man Born of the Cosmic Egg is much more nuanced than, say, The Quiet North, or most of his output as Jazzkamer. Of course, it would be insulting to Marhaug to suggest he needed Low’s presence to garner a bit of sensitivity, but repeated listens to the album do suggest that this is music built on a careful balance between both artists as they improvise a series of tracks that sound more sculpted than played, as if both Marhaug and Low were carefully molding a clay statue together.

The album does open with a nice slab of throbbing gristle in “Silver Needle, Silver Dragon,” however, with gritty compressed noise crackling and surging fitfully and angrily over intricate, echoing guitar arpeggios. As the music ebbs and swells, intricate details emerge, with the more atonal elements balanced expertly against the lilting guitar. It’s a tough equilibrium to maintain, but at no point on “Silver Needle, Silver Dragon” do Marhaug or Low lose control, with each element placed appositely against the others. When you consider that the whole album was improvised and approached without any predefined ideas, it’s a remarkable achievement. On “Fleas Were the Ancestors of Mankind,” the duo ratchets up the noise, with Low’s guitar belching out cavernous riffs and baleful feedback whilst Marhaug plunges into acrid, high-frequency electro pulsations.

“Each Bay Its Own Wind” is a noticeably more nuanced piece, with Low again showing his gentle touch on guitar, the agile lines of which are surrounded, even shrouded, by gossamer ambient synth drones, before Marhaug introduces layers of percussive industrial noise, again without ever overpowering the other details of the piece. It’s probably the most evocative track on the album, bringing to mind the apocalyptic genesis story of Pan Gu in abstract, yet affecting ways, proving once and for all that noise-based music has so much more potential than merely acting as a way of bludgeoning audiences into submission. The aforementioned Helm springs to mind at times, as does Wolf Eyes’ Mike Connelly’s creepy, atmospheric Failing Lights project. Low’s guitar style is a highlight throughout the album, and his past involvement with Singapore’s avant-metal and rock scenes is apparent, lending an earthy, organic feel to tracks like “Silver Needle, Silver Dragon” and the nine-minute doom ballad “Elixir of Death,” on which his widescreen arpeggios channel Flood-era Boris, Justin Broderick’s Jesu and SUNN 0))) in equal measure. As these open-ended solos snake in and out of Marhaug’s alternately squelchy, abrasive or caustic drones and crackles, it almost feels as if they had actually witnessed Pan Gu’s birth/death and had decided to soundtrack it for us mere mortals.

Primeval Man Born of the Cosmic Egg, in that respect, achieves the ambition its creators set out to achieve. However, it’s much rewarding to approach it on a less lofty level and enjoy the experience of a wordless dialogue between two open-minded and genre-pushing artists feeding off each other’s inspiration.

By Joseph Burnett

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