No one is happier than I to witness the return of Grim in the last couple of years. 2013 saw the band’s first release since 1987, although their early music has been repackaged and rereleased numerous times since it first bubbled up through the dark waters of ’80’s underground cassette culture. Grim deserve far more attention than they get, if only for being as original as they are. Well, as he is, since Grim is the one-man project of Konayaga Jun, also a member of the cult industrial act White Hospital (the other half of whom broke off to form Vasilisk, who themselves staged a triumphant return a few years ago).
Grim are usually described as being either ‘industrial’ or ‘power electronics’, neither of which is terribly accurate, especially where this album is concerned, but I suppose those names fit as well as anything else and are a little easier to remember than, say, neotraditionaljapanesefracturedpopnoisehop, which might be a little more on point. Maha is a massive piece of work, a full double-album (or double-CD) available in a variety of presentations, all of which pack a visual wallop. They’re also strictly limited, with the number of copies available ranging from 38 to 412, depending on which configuration you choose. Of course, there’s also a digital download available, if you’re someone who’d rather skip the fancy artwork and get straight to the music.
And get to the music you should. Since I first bought this, I’ve listened to it on speakers, on headphones, while working, while resting, and while hopping around the internet when I should have been working, because I find that there’s just so much here to take in and that the experience of hearing it is different and captivating in every context. The only comparisons I can think of are Coil and Muslimgauze, and even then it’s not because they sound alike (they really don’t), but because those are the only things that I can think of that sound so much like nothing else and at the same time so resolutely like themselves. There’s a Dada strangeness that runs through the whole colossal outing, which keeps it from dipping into very hypnotic territory. Not that there aren’t points where it does start to draw you into a trance, like ‘Ejiki’, made up of an earworm of a loop played on an Asian stringed instrument over a clattering rhythmic loop. After five minutes, you’ll feel like your brain has had a neck massager applied directly to it.
One of the things that strikes me about the album is how unapologetically groovy it is. Much of the sound is noisy in the machine-like way of early Einstürzende Neubauten, but moving the tracks forward are rhythms that wouldn’t be out-of-place on a hip-hop album. The use of some traditional instrumentation might tempt some to call the beats ‘tribal’, but they have far more in common with the streets of NYC than the rituals of the ancient world. Against this sturdy skeleton, Konayaga adds layers of muscle, fascia, and flesh in the form of keyboards, dissonant vocals (his own and others), analogue noise, acoustic instrumentation, and more. But this album is well more than the sum of its parts and to simply describe the layers that went into building the golem’s body does not allow one to appreciate the magic it takes to bring it to life.
There is life here, pulsing through every track, giving a sense of urgency, filling the music with emotion when it could be a perfectly acceptable romp in weirdness for weirdness’ sake. There are anthemic moments (‘Khireeq’), moments of delicate prettiness (‘Snow’), and many moments of noisy mayhem. The process of listening to the full album is exhausting, especially if you’re desperately trying to catch hold of all the sounds as they tumble past you. Better to give yourself time to get to know it, because there is plenty here to allow you to discover new things on repeated listens.
This is normally the point where I would pause and say something like ‘my only quibble is’, but aside from the fact that this is a massive work to take in all at once, there’s not a lot of quibbling in me. Perhaps it would have been better to space the album out over two releases, but after a twenty-five-year hiatus, I’ll take as much as I can get my ears on. And it’s not like the music doesn’t work as one opus magnus, so who am I to argue with the artist about the expansiveness of his work?
Buy this in whatever format you like, listen to it, listen to it again, listen to it in different contexts, and let it wash over you like an ocean. It deserves to be heard and remembered for the slab of musical genius it is. Brilliant and very nearly perfect.
01) Yellow G
02) Holy Drive
03) Third Eye
07) Cikada Sutra
09) Gate to Phantom
10) Electro Spirits
12) Black Snake
15) Magnetic Field
16) Valley God Not Die