Quite a lot of this album is like having the frontal lobes of your brain cut out of your head and sliced into tiny chunks by a blowtorch calibrated to the precise temperature of the heart of the sun. Swedish noise magus Elggren is expert at creating spitting, furious beams of narrow-channel chaos that fuse downtuned, black metal dronegrind with buzzing electrical power spewing forth as if from the sliced-open veins of the national grid. At its best – as on side A’s third track, or the record’s closing piece on the flip side – Das Baank exudes a force so malignant it’s almost physical, superdense and white-hot, giving it a vivid and coruscating power.
The scorched landscapes Elggren creates chime with the bleakness of his vision for the record, whose release notes come loaded with talk of ‘political absurdity and corruption in our present time’, and it’s an easy conceptual hop, skip and jump from the armour-piercing might of Das Baank’s fuzz and drones to the damage wrought by the all-encompassing might of supranational global finance and its attendant hollowing out of public life. Das Baank is a vision of a world scoured by the ravages of neoliberalism, where greed, vested interests and unstoppable flows of algorithmic transactions combine in a domino effect of ecological devastation, war and economic disaster.
Side B’s opener is reprise of that molten death ray blast – this and its evil twin on A.3 together are definitely one of the record’s many high points – and their seething modulations are, quite frankly bloody marvellous, the frequencies whopping and flipping on a dime like a furious snake impaled on a high-tension line through which a million volts is suddenly beamed. B.3 is another stand-out, mashing mock-baroque synth-organ swoops with crushing waves of belched noise that manages to sound simultaneously like an elegy for our already lost civilisation and a field recording of its ongoing destruction.
What’s interesting, of course, is the strange pull of attraction and repulsion that seems to take place within some of these pieces. The Devil has all the best tunes, after all, and maybe you could imagine Elggren becoming slightly seduced by the sonic power he’s wielding, like some underpaid cop finally taking the brown bag of cash to be inducted into the cartel’s glittering realms. In reality, I suspect Elggren is too canny to be swallowed by the dark side. He wields the industrial textures and building-crushing slabs of sound of Das Baank with admirable, imperious disdain. Co-opt him? You’d be lucky. After all, this is an artist who, along with Carl Michael von Hausswolff, founded his own country, the Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland (KREV) – although the fact that he has pronounced himself king of KREV suggests he’s not exactly proposing new, communal and democratic ways of living as an alternative to our crumbling society.
Despite this, there is some beauty – some hope, even – squirrelled away among Das Baank’s cracked and blasted surfaces. B.2 is almost pastoral in its spluttering flickers, and the environmental sound-bed of A.4, with its distant crashing waves, almost suggests a world at peace with itself (although the low growl running beneath undercuts that impression slightly). Indeed, by the time you get to the end of Das Baank, it’s easy to forget the sparse beauty of the record’s opening track, a soft-hued hymnal that coos like serried racks of gas burners serenading the night. The delicacy in which it advances through its gradated intervals offers a gorgeous contrast to the monolithic heft of the other tracks here, and as such, offers some consolation too. Das Baank may not have any solutions for a world in crisis, but it sure paints a powerful picture. Maybe the intention is to galvanise a sluggish population, maybe not. But in this world of the blind, the man from Elgaland-Vargaland is king.