Merge brings two things into especially sharp focus: Mads Lindgren aka Monolog likes his beats slow, and he likes them crushing. In fact, the typical Monolog groove is slow even by dubstep standards—not that Merge slots itself so easily into the dubstep genre. The eleven-track album, which features vocal cuts, remixes, and collaborations, arrives a year after 2 Dots Left, Lindgren's fifth album and first for Ad Noiseam. If that earlier work warranted characterizations such as “a feast of cold, mechanical harshness” and “an impressively detailed assault on the senses,” so too does the new collection, even if it is slower and heavier by comparison.
The bruising opener “The Man Next To You” intimates that the person in question is no friend but a fearsome threat, given the relentless manner by which its bone-crushing pulse carves a path through the cut's grime-smothered bass undertow. It's a tone-setter that the album's other tracks follow, even when they stretch the Monolog sound into different shapes. By way of example, “Tandfoi” shows itself to be equally cut-throating, despite the presence of Tone's gentle vocalizing, while the Monolog remix of Flux & Joey Juggaknotts's “Take A Breather” plunges the album into a gritty hip-hop zone whose sound design is as lethal as the verses. The biggest change-ups occur halfway through when “In Returns” rolls out five unexpected minutes of hellacious drum'n'bass and “Sadness On a Cloud” follows it with a largely beatless (though still epic) ambient soundscape.
Collaborations constitute a large percentage of the album content. Lindgren teams up with fellow Dane Karsten Pflum for two cuts under the A Dying User name, partners with Balkansky (Ivan Shopov) on two others, works with Swarm Intelligence (Simon Hayes) as Diasiva, and brings Species (Oliver Donath) aboard as well. Cuts by Diasiva (“Make Mountains”) and A Dying User (“Dead and Used”) inhabit a middle ground between dubstep and experimental electronica, but if there's one track that's representative of Merge, it's “AEAEGF,” a nightmarish dubstep cut that Lindgren and Balkansky work up into a cranium-shattering pile-driver of the first rank. As much as the project's sound is centered on whip-crack beats, it's important to emphasize that a typical Merge cut is also notable for its texturally rich electronic sound design.