Reviewing records is a tough gig – you have to find the time, find the words, find the bands… but to bands that need the exposure it’s a big deal and a lot hinges on what schmucks like me say about them.
As such, I’ve gotta make it clear that I’m only reviewing half of Merrin’s supremely exciting ‘Doom Cinema’ project: the three tracks released (and reviewed here) comprise the soundtrack to a VHS release later in 2014. The individual tracks will be ‘accompanied by three short films, each exploring the genres they are paying homage to.’ The genres they are talking about are classic horror and exploitation movies: Carpenter horror & Giallo, Southern US thrillers and Straight-to-VHS horror movies. Bringing personal taste into reviews can be a problem, especially if the person reviewing your work has a real fetish for the sounds you are trying to emulate. In this case, Merrin are up against my lifelong belief in the Horror Soundtrack as one of the best forms of artistic expression available. To keep tension and mood with visuals is one thing, but to make a piece of suitable music is quite the task.
With regards to John Carpenter, this is a guy whose movies you will have seen, from the sublime – Halloween, Halloween II, The Thing, Escape from NY, Assault on Precinct 13 – to the ridiculous (I would say ridiculously brilliant) – They Live, Star Man, Big Trouble in Little China… the list is daunting. So when bands throw out references to John Carpenter, they know that there are committed horror/sci fi enthusiasts that not only obsess over the movie, but over the soundtrack. I, like a bunch of other soundtrack enthusiasts, keep tabs on what Death Waltz records are doing to Carpenter’s soundtrack catalogue: they remaster and re-jig the sound, re-design the sleeve & bring the soundtracks out of their respective movies and onto their own 12 inch platform from which they can creep you out or tickle your pickle in equal measure (just look at the cover of Death Waltz’s issue of Halloween II to see what I mean…)
The first track on ‘Doom Cinema’, ‘Plymouth Fury’, is a sub-zero chiller. Confusingly, Merrin released a track called ‘Plymouth Fury’ on their earlier release ‘V/H/S’ (bandcamp wouldn’t let me listen to it, so I couldn’t tell you if it’s the same.) However, the track itself is a brooding, glacier-slow piece that carries Halloween’s eery sense of impending doom – while a piercing guitar line places it firmly within the realms of a Gothic soundtrack (‘Only Theatre of Pain’, anyone?) It’s got a creepy-crawl feel to it & the pacing and individual sections of the track are well written, the lead guitar line pushing the track forward in a Gilmour-on-downers kinda fashion. I can’t wait to see what kind of clip accompanies it; this is by far the prime cut on the record. The real ‘horror’ signifiers – distorted guitar chords, an oscillating echo effect – appear towards the end, so I imagine that’s where the blood and guts fall out of their owner and into our retinas.
‘Cajun Swamps’ is the token Chainsaw Massacre/Hills Have Eyes/My Ma is My Sister and I’m Gon’ Rape Ya kind of tune (the last one isn’t a real movie, you may be glad to hear.) It’s a haunting, gothic cut with a surprising Native American/Acid-Rock stoned quality that could just as readily accompany a lonely biker riding Route 66 at 3AM as a nipple-belt-wearing-hick relaxing on his porch. It’s quality musicianship, in my opinion, because it doesn’t hang around long enough to drop into Muzak/stock sounds territory, as a lot of these projects do.
‘Shakma’ seems to be from the same movie as ‘Plymouth Fury’ – a droning, mantra-esque bassline is accompanied by the kind of shitty keyboard sound Carpenter fans will have come to adore by now. For three minutes, it is one of the creepiest soundtrack efforts I’ve heard in a while… then, as if bursting from the stomach of an unsuspecting citizen, a chunky guitar riff comes in to double the bass, completely overhauling the track into a sluggish metal section (I’m pretty sure Merrin didn’t know how to bring that section into the track, because there’s a harsh blast of digital ghost-distortion coming atcha from nowhere as the riff kicks in.) This may be entirely intentional, but I’m pretty sure it’s unnecessary – there’s another blast of it before the track changes again, this time to include hi-hat, kick-drum and snare sounds, with the spectre of a guitar line hanging around in the gloom with icy keyboards. It develops into a rubbery, Kraut rhythm before that chunky metal riff comes back to see the track out.
Combined with cheap-ass clips of people spilling blood everywhere, this project will go down a storm. Merrin have done something quite unique, to the metal world at least: indie, rock and punk bands have been putting releases like this out for some time – there was even a feature in the incredible Impose Magazine as to which Carpenter soundtrack was the favourite of numerous bands, including my new cyberpunk heroes Pop. 1280. Fact of the matter is, I’d like to be able to see the video with the tunes. Soundtracks are a divisive and complex beast to track, and if you enjoy this release, I would beseech you to check out those Death Waltz reissues of Carpenter’s work before they become priceless collectibles. Merrin would tell you the same.
PS. I’ll gladly re-review this project when the visuals become available.
Scribed by: Ross Horton