“The world must be finally ending because the soundtrack is done and ready – Scott Walker with Sunn O))).” Low said it best when describing Walker’s avant-garde epic collaboration with sonic titans Sunn O))). A singer known universally for his breadth of work, from ’60s pop to audio experimentalist to master of theatrics, no two records in his half-century of experience have come away sounding remotely similar. Soused is Walker’s Metal Machine Music, a catastrophic and devastatingly abrasive step off the deep end of productive reason and into a realm of high art.
At just five tracks totalling 50 minutes, those familiar with Sunn O)))’s droning ambivalence won’t be surprised by the grandiose ambient shuddering that acts as the floor for Walker’s baritone deliveries. The metal duo are at their prime in the early half of the record, where giant gates of distorted guitar waves ripple like magnetic sheets for minutes on end. It isn’t the most obvious decision to pair this kind of thunder with Walker’s operatic vocals, and the discussion between the Seattle doomers and the 71-year-old avant-garde icon must have been an interesting one. Because of the obvious distance between the instrumental and vocal halves of Soused, there is a refined, distinct edge to each track that is both jarring and uncomfortable. Production, by Walker and Peter Walsh (who also assisted on 1984’s Climate of Hunter, 1995’s Tilt, and 2006’s The Drift) further cements that divide, as the vocals drop like jagged icicles against the glacial noise floor Sunn O))) create.
Traditional Sunn O))) fans will hate Soused at its best moments, covered by Scott Walker’s warbling croon and his intensely dramatic readings. In its truest sense, Soused is less a collaboration than it is one band being bent to fit the will of another: the duo are most definitely playing to Walker, and not vice versa. As one-sided an exchange as this is, it makes Soused all the more satisfyingly entertaining as an overly grandeur flourish by an aging performance artist. Even fans of Walker’s previous solo works, Tilt and The Drift, may have a hard time coming to terms with the sonic direction he’s swivelled onto, but regardless of how many people Soused appeals to, its utterly unique concept and stunning execution is what makes it so fascinating to unravel.