Category Archives: Merzbow Marathon

Merzbow Marathon: Pulse Demon

Merzbow Marathon: Pulse Demon
Release Entertainment (1996)

Pulse Demon has a reputation. Apparently one of the most over compressed recordings ever, specifically engineered for extreme intensity. Yowzer! Pulse Demon is like a forbidden fruit.

I’ve had this record on my shelf for more than twelve months now, and the idea of listening to it has always filled me with dread. I assumed it was going to be a real slog to listen to. I’d bought into the fucked up mythology. But what better time to give it a crack than the tail end of my month long Merzbow Marathon, while my brain is a pile of miscellaneous sludge and I‘m starting to yearn for a listening experience outside of Mr Akita’s formless world. The time seemed right.

However, as Public Enemy once said “Don’t believe the hype”. Pulse Demon isn’t the terrifying monster it’s often painted as. Sure, it’s relentless and loud, so fucking loud, and it has few bearing points but it’s also a crystal clear recording, a high definition digital bloom rather than a gassy cloud of pollution. And with five of its eight tracks coming in under the six minute mark (and only one extending past eleven minutes) it’s also fairly easy to digest. I like it when Merzbow gives me easily digestible chunks. I’m piss weak like that.

Maybe I enjoy Pulse Demon because I’ve heard so much Merzbow this month that my ear has become better attuned to his intricacies. Maybe it’s because I realised that there’s little to understand about Merzbow; when his stars align all you need to do is relax and go along for the ride.

This record is 70+ minutes long, but I’m yet to notice this when listening to it. That’s possibly because of the easily digestible chunks I mentioned above. But it also has to do with the playfulness it exudes, like the trip-hoppy rhythm that holds Tokyo Times Ten together, or the Kevin Drumm inspired drone that veers from left to right speaker on Worms Plastic Earthbound and then decays into bleak fuzz. Or Spiral Blast, one of the best Merzbow tracks I’ve heard yet, based on a bottomed-out buzz that sounds like an engine revving itself up and changing gears over and over until it folds in on itself and then jams like a CD stammering  on a deep scratch.

The moral of this story is don’t judge a book by its Op Art cover.

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Merzbow Marathon: Hodosan

Merzbow: Hodosan
Vivo (2008)

This is about drums. More than that, it’s about Merzbow getting all sentimental about his days as drummer in Japan’s prog/psych rock scene of the 70s. Hodosan is one giant drum solo with some noise thrown over the top as an after thought.

When Merzbow gets all crazy on his drum kit, I get all “meh”. I’m sure he’s having a blast belting the crap out of his skins, putting down endless drum rolls and smashing a cymbal every other second, but for me it’s all a bit of yawn. There’s something very anti-noise about the records Mr. Akita makes of this nature. Yeah sure you could trace Hodosan’s inspiration back to free-jazz/avant-jazz, but there’s something so Rock n’ Roll Establishment about a drum solo. Listening to Hodosan (and some of those ’13 Japanese Birds’ records, among others) makes me feel like I’m watching some hair metal band. I can see Tommy Lee in his leather G-string pounding away while his drum kit rises off the stage and starts doing 360s.

Maybe I’m missing the joke here? I can’t begrudge Merzbow for making records like this occasionally. He seems to take himself so seriously most of the time, and you know, he’s got this whole ‘king of noise’ crown to bear so you can’t blame the guy for wanting to let his hair down occasionally. Shame it’s so boring when he does.

Merzbow Marathon: F.I.D.

Merzbow: F.I.D.
Fourth Dimension Records (2006)

For me, the stand-out Merzbow records are those where Mr. Akita plays with a varied palette. The six tracks that make up this two-disc set are among his most diverse rackets. And, on the whole it’s an absolute cracker.

As first cab of the rank, Exteriorization?@no. 1 is fairly standard Merzbow fare made up of a bubbly drone and warped shrieks of feedback. Forest of Kelp is where shit gets interesting. It starts with a mid-range buzz, that sound you hear when walking underneath power lines, and some subtle, shifting static. Then something totally un-Merzbow happens. The buzz and static disappear, leaving a quiet ringing sound and some ultra reverbed laser zaps. The vibe is cavernous despite being so minimal and it sucks you into the abyss, falling endlessly. Mr. Akita continues drowning his noise in reverb and delay for twenty minutes, and for me it never gets boring. Not once. This is the subtlety I wanted to hear him explore further after listening to Keio Line. I didn’t think I’d get my wish so soon.

The opening track on disc two surprises us by gently fading away rather than ending abruptly like most of Merzbow’s work does. Meanwhile, Transition is potentially the most minimalistic thing I’ve ever heard Merzbow do. It’s like John Weise with the dial turned down to one. A bunch of skittery blips, squeaks and sound recordings played in fast forward, all of it incredibly soft and delicate, which is a soothing experience despite the schizo madness of the sound collage. I want more of this Merzbow, please!

Rest assured we’re also treated to plenty of skin shredding throbs, scree and terror. Set closer Kongara sounds like a disco for rejected replicants. It pulses like techno and shrieks like Black Metal until the 4/4 ‘beat’ starts to warp like a rip in the fabric of time. These frenetic, more traditional Merzbow moments become that much more powerful alongside the restrained moments outlined above. Mr. Akita is toying with us, and it’s bucket loads of fun.

There are plenty of Merzbow haters out there, people convinced that Mr. Akita is churning out the same crap over and over again. F.I.D dispels that myth completely. It proves that not only is Merzbow a great noise artist, but that noise itself is a multi-faceted genre capable of more depth and excitement than the general music listening public will ever give it credit for. As far as I’m concerned, this record is a must have for noise nerds and Merzbow fans a like.

Merzbow Marathon: Age of 369/Chant 2

Merzbow: Age of 369/Chant 2
Extreme Records (1996)

There’s a lot that I should love about this double-disc compilation of Merzbow cassettes from the 80s, but for reasons out of my grasp I’m not feeling this much at all. Merzbient made me incredibly curious about Mr Akita’s analogue work, so much so that I want to hunt down more. While Age of 369 / Chant 2 is choc-full of carefully pieced (piled?) together snippets of musical samples, voices, objects smashing and ‘instruments’ clanging it lacks….chutzpah.

Six of the seven tracks are heavy on mechanical drones and all have a very live-in-the-room feel which differs greatly form his more recent, digital output. There are some fine moments, such as the snippets of Elvis that flicker in and out of the mix at one point and the semi-tortured screams that are manipulated on the opening track, but Mr Akita’s propensity to allow this miasma to bubble away aimlessly is ultimately a let down.

I imagine that in the context of ‘82 or ‘83, when this stuff was recorded and released, such a mish mash of grating clamor must have been unique. Perhaps as a ‘relic’ these two cassettes warranted a digital re-release, but with all the other noise that’s happened since that era Age of 369/Chant 2 sounds a little bit….meh. Can I hear you say that maybe I’m overdoing the Merzbow with this whole marathon thing? Am I simply Merzbow-ed out at the moment? Ha! That couldn’t be further from the truth because I’ve already moved on from Age of 369/Chant 2 and the next Merzbow record I plan to write about is a fucking corker.

But you know, there are plenty of you out there that will probably hate that record while rating Age of 369/Chant 2. And this is what becomes more and more intriguing to me, the subjective randomness of the genre. The more noise I listen to the harder it gets to pin point why one record turns me on and another bores me, or why someone else is fascinated by what makes my ears glaze over. Not to say that Age of 369/Chant 2 is completely shit or irrelevant. There’s just better out there. Although the cover art and cd booklet are a nice series of collaged porn images, Japanese fabrics (?) and typography. Whether that makes this worth the listen or not, well……….

Merzbow marathon: Merzbow and Richard Pinhas – Keio Line

Merzbow & Richard Pinhas: Keio Line
Cuneiform Records (2008)

There’s a whole Yellow Swans thing going on here, the way ingredients are added bit-by-bit and mixed into a gooey molasses. Pinhas’ chiming guitar reminds me a lot of those earlier Yellow Swans records too.

That reference aside, goddamn there are some beautiful frequencies, tones and sparkly sonics across the two discs, six tracks that make up Keio Line. Each composition breaks the twenty-minute mark and is given plenty of scope to slowly, ever so slowly unfurl at a painstaking pace. They build up to crisp glaciers of nothing and leave you hankering for more. Keio Line seems like an apt title for this record. The reference to Japan’s maze-like underground railway system is a visual that compliments the looping lines of guitar and electronics.

Merzbow shows immense restraint though out, relying on distant rumbles and gurgling electronics to cushion Pinhas’ compressed, sustained, distorted, modulated and overdubbed guitars. Mr Akita could easily have melted the face off Pinhas, but the subtlety shown by both musicians creates fantastic tension as their ‘instruments’ push and pull against each other for pride of place. Mr Akita obviously admires Pinhas prog rock roots and is more than willing to let the man’s guitar soar. I can totally imagine Pinhas soloing somewhere on Aqua Necromancer.

I haven’t heard Merzbow sound this restrained since he collaborated with Boris on Sun Baked Snow Cave, and even that was a doomier affair than Keio Line. Why doesn’t Merzbow explore this territory more often? He has an insurmountable number of abrasive releases to his name – and yes, there is variety among them – but surely this is a facet of noise he could delve into further.

Sometimes I struggle with Merzbow’s multi-disc releases, but whenever I put Keio Line on I lose myself and it’s over way too soon. I’ve read rumours that the pair will release some live collaborations on Cuneiform Records later this year, to compliment their collaborative effort with Wolf Eyes released on the same label in 2010. I need to hunt all that shit down.

Merzbow Marathon: Rattus Rattus

Merzbow: Rattus Rattus
Scarcelight Recordings (2005)

When I’m compiling my thoughts on something I intend to review for this blog, I won’t usually read other reviews out there on the web. I’ll research the artist if I’m not familiar with them, but in general I don’t want other people’s reviews influencing my own. Rattus Rattus was a Merzbow record that I’d barely heard anything about before I stumbled across a second hand copy in a dingy store, and with its simple cardboard-pocket packaging I honestly thought it was some sort of Merzbow sampler or e.p. So, I scoured the interwebs and discovered it is in fact considered to be an album. There are plenty of reviews out there too, and the vast majority of them are by people not necessarily into noise who found this record rather challenging. ‘Relentless’ ‘thunderous’ ‘slap/kick in the face’ ‘monotonous’ are phrases constantly used to describe Rattus Rattus in these musings – how is it that so many people not into Merzbow have heard this particular disc?

This made me realise that I’m either weird, or officially a noise nerd because I place Rattus Rattus among the more accessible of Mr Akita’s work.

This three track disc starts with two teasers, the first of which opens with a blown-out stampede of tribal drums and explosions of fuzz that settle into a comfortable drone. Various whirs and ticks are looped underneath the slab of sound, before the heaviness gives way to a series of squeaky squelches. The following track continues the droning theme with a deep hum (like a massive air conditioning unit) offset by a series of high-end buzzes. The Zen-like drone is punctuated by jagged shrieks of hiss and spatters of silence

But these are mere previews for the 39-minute finale Rattus Rattus Suite, which traverses a significant amount of territory for the first fifteen minutes – cash register explosions, Hitchcock-like synth stabs, something that sounds like people laughing but could just as easily be Mr Akita’s beloved chickens, the regular bleep of an EEG machine, melting computers –and then settles into a reassuring drone.

What makes this record ‘accessible’ (by Merzbow standards) is that the same sounds reappear at varying points throughout. Rattus Rattus is big on the loops, which provide something to latch onto and the familiarity makes it comforting. It’s also a heavy record, there’s loads of bass. This is Merzbow doing his pulse and throb thing which really works for me.

Rattus Rattus was released during his string of ‘Merz’ themed records, arguably his most accessible work. While there are similarities with that series’ fascination with rhythm and bass Rattus Rattus stands apart as a wilder, free form beast. If you’ve dabbled in and enjoyed the ‘Merz’ series, and are looking for a gateway to his more visceral and extreme work this could be your ticket. Scarcelight doesn’t seem to exist anymore so you might have to hunt this one down on Discogs or eBay.

Merzbow Marathon – Merzbow vs. Nordvargr: Partikel

Merzbow vs. Nordargr: Partikel
Cold Spring (2004)

Just over twelve months ago I returned from a trip to Japan, during which I purchased an abundance of Merzbow records, most at insanely cheap prices. Would you believe that I’ve only managed to listen to a couple of them so far, not to mention that I’ve picked up a handful more of his records since returning from Japan (of those, at least I listened to and enjoyed Merzbient and Ouroborous)

Anyway, what I’m saying is that i really need to listen to those records but at the rate I keep purchasing new music I’m never going to get around to it. So, I’m going to listen to, and write about all the parts of my Merzbow collection that I’ve not heard yet.

And I’ll attempt to do it all this month, February.

Yes it’s a crazy goal that I probably won’t achieve but dammit I’m going to try. And yes I know that on my initial return from Japan I said that I wanted to give myself time to truly take in each Merzbow release I’d bought, but that obviously isn’t working. So I’m taking one for the team. Or something.

I’m starting my Merzbow Marathon with Partikel, described as a collaboration between Mr. Akita and Nordvargr, the Scandinavian Industrial/Dark Ambient maestro who’s been around for years but I’m not really familiar with. I guess I’m cheating a bit because I’ve actually been listening to this for a few weeks now and I have to say that it’s easily cracked my list of Merzbow favourites. Like Merzbuta, Partikel toys with glitchy and skittering beats similar to the most challenging moments of Autechre (think Draft 7.30 or Untilted). But unlike Merzbuta, rythm is merely the base for a spectrum of moody arrangements,  tides of noise and creepy atmospheres.

Similar to Yoshinotsune, here Merzbow’s trademarks are used to build tension and release, to inspire imaginary worlds rather than solely challenge the concept, constructs and constraints of music. Not being familiar with Nordvargr’s back catalog I can’t say for sure that his influence is what makes Partikel such a trip, but this the least Merzbow sounding Merzbow record I’ve heard yet. And I like it, I like it a lot.

The third and final track in particular, a 20+ minute epic driven by a bulging metronomic rhythm built out of bass heavy fuzz is my favourite. It rolls on in an endless trance, mesmerising in its repetitiveness, punctuated by swirls of feedback and distorted squall. It’s hypnotic and noisy, like super damaged Krautrock.

Partikel is the first in a trilogy of collaborations between these two artists and while it’s no longer available from the Cold Spring site I’ve seen it floating around on eBay from time to time. I’m very keen to hear the following two records in this series, along with whatever else Nordvargr’s back catologue has to offer.