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Merzbow - Merzbeat

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Artist: Merzbow

Album: Merzbeat

Label: Important

Review date: Oct. 20, 2002

Noise with a Beat

Japanese abstract-noise legend Merzbow (Masami Akita) is forever being judged in relation to the mainstream. Fans and critics enjoy Merzbow not only for his consistently groundbreaking experiments in sound, but also for the contrast to fluffy, predictable pop which his music has been made to embody. I say “has been made” because such status was bestowed upon Merzbow by people who are not themselves Merzbow. Without question the music merits this, but Akita for his part has always insisted that he is less concerned with reacting to the mainstream than with making a fresh artistic statement cognizant of dada, junk art, and erotic bondage. His music is an interpretation of very complex ideologies imbued with a violently non-traditional, but ultimately transparent sense of beauty. Akita’s concepts possess enough depth to render a preaching-to-the-choir comparative showdown with *N Sync a boring waste of time, but the fascination with Merzbow and the mainstream persists.

So it was no surprise to read about this issue once again in the press sheet and interview which accompanied Merzbow’s new and controversial Merzbeat, recently released on Important Records. After all, Merzbeat is an album with beats made by the man who many thought eschewed such archaic traditions on principle. Not only does it have beats, but actual distinguishable drums, usually in rhythm and the whole bit.

Should we be worried then? Has the champion of noise been subdued? Nope. Merzbow is an amorphous experiment, and this foray into musicality is just another idea for Akita to fuck around with. You’ll be happy to know that Merzbeat is still full of jarring distortion, chaos, and clamor.

A chainsaw begins to dictate the melody before dropping out on the first song, called “Promotion Man.” Without knowing that this was Merzbow, the style could easily be mistaken as someone else’s, even though sheets of noise quickly cover up the raw, repetitive drumbeat. When the chainsaw returns, it is much less timid, but still oddly melodic. The beat stutters and decomposes in a way that evokes jazz, which is a beautiful touch. The second track “Forgotten Land” is another surprise. With heavily filtered drums and a proud two-note hook originating from a stringed instrument, this song begins as post-rock, a la Nobukazu Takemura. When the hook goes away, leaving heavy drums and swirling tape-manipulated sounds in its wake, it sounds a bit like Neu!.

I’m going to assume that the third track, “Shadow Barbarian (Long Mix),” is the story of the character on the cover art. The Shadow Barbarian (who you can see at the top of this review) is like the song: lumbering and simple. He is at all times confused about where to go and what to do next. As a general rule, he follows his instincts and gets into a lot of hilarious, but frustrating adventures. This song modulates from a long string of thin, directionless sounds to become the most traditionally Merzbow-like, through a steady barrage of mechanical screams.

“Tadpole” is as innocent as the title suggests, and portions of it would make a fitting soundtrack to a seventh-grade biology class film about the life cycle. The track is very short and as ambient as Merzbow gets, but in its brevity, never really peaks. The final song, “Looping Jane (Beat Mix),” utilizes the same general drum concept as “Forgotten Land” to become the most insane song on Merzbeat. It sounds like being inside of a lawnmower which repeatedly fails to start. Also, hidden on track 66 is Jack Dangers’ remix of “Merzbow’s Amlux.” This remix has somewhat of a grainy digital feel to it, though it retains the trademark noisy essences of Merzbow.

On the whole, even with pronounced melodies and drums, Merzbeat sounds nothing like any mainstream record, and despite the post-rock comparison, it doesn’t feel like an abject deconstruction of some other kind of music. Merzbow has long stood on his own as an artist, sometimes borrowing ideas for his records, but never being dependent on them for substance. Merzbeat, like most of Merzbow’s work, is the best kind of experiment.

By Ben Tausig

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