Much has been written about Merzbow. So many arguments over the years. A vast library of material has been released. This is not the place to try and make sense of Masami Akita’s contributions to the pantheons of musical works and art works. All we can do is approach this particular release as an individual artifact of recorded sound. It has been stated that Merzbow will contribute a release to any label that requests one from him. Due to this work ethic, many small noise labels have tried to raise their profile by adding a Merzbow recording to their discography. It usually doesn’t work very well. Another approach, time-honored in hardcore and noise communities, is to place an artist or band with much less of a following on a split release with a bigger name. Merzbow is a tough choice. On one hand, his project name is instantly recognizable to people with a passing knowledge of extreme music genres. Detrimentally, Masami Akita has supersaturated the music buying public with hundreds of releases spanning the past thirty years. So, yeah… people will recognize the name, but do they need another Merzbow record on their shelf?
The Merzbow side of this split LP contains one long track named “Sugamo Flower Festival”. Something about this recording seems much more biological sounding than a great deal of Akita’s output. Oral suction noises and oxygen spirals mixed with the spit and bile one expects from the modern noisemaker. This is not overly harsh music. Samples of creaky wood and manipulated magnetics are gradually speeding up to a screeching friction. Never hitting that shattered glass insanity, taking instead a turn toward circus thoroughfares, pachinko parlors in echo chambers, birds chirping amidst anime space battles. In other words, this song is fun. Near its end, we hear jumbled satellite communications morphing into rhythmic looping turbines and robotic transmissions pressed to the belt sander. This beautiful collage then ends with a dreadful fade out instead of a more climactic end to the eighteen minute piece.
Actuary is a California noise unit with changing membership. For Freak Hallucinations, the group has five players. It is not clearly stated what particular instrumentation any of them are contributing to with these three songs, and there doesn’t really seem to be enough going on to necessitate five participants. The first track begins with creepy keys over low drones: the usual signifier of terror lurking in the dark. Then the frightening noises present themselves as unintelligible sub-octave voices, tape-speed manipulations (is that the actual sound of fast-forwarding I hear?) horror samples and the obligatory scary baby voice. I will admit that warped baby vocals do actually terrify me. The second track is slower and more masterful in its definition of space. Futurism and machination breathing in the spacecraft’s engine room while ungrounded wires are fed to a dull blender. Hovercraft and slasher-film Foley tricks cycle through delay devices. Heavy doors are electronically pulled back to reveal slow, monstrous oscillations.
The final song of the record introduces content and form for the first time on the album. It begins with a sparse sub-bass beat placing Neubauten shapes on cold, digital tundra. The vocals on this song are strong and hold nothing back. The screams boil over from a melting throat in a ‘Nate Young meets Abbath’ style. Crackling static and Theremin alarms fill in the middle-ground between industrial rhythms and dry yells of death. It is possible to make out a word or phrase here and there, but it might be better to process the screams as just another layer of sound generation. Noise is noise.
Actuary has a good set of split releases in their discography. Having shared discs and tapes with Juhyo, Cock E.S.P., Bastard Noise and Winters in Osaka makes a strong precursor for this well-executed split with Merzbow. The black vinyl has a subtle white marbling that matches the black and white fold-over cover art wonderfully. The overall presentation is a psychedelic one. Noise music is capable of altering one’s perceptions and conscious states much more effectively than the type of music which is usually labeled as psychedelic. The approaches of these two artists are different, but the mind-bending outcome is similar enough. Merzbow created a hyperspace children’s fever dream while Actuary tried to scare the listener into rethinking their existence. Both of these styles become effective doses of psychedelic medications for this record.
A1) Merzbow – Sugamo Flower Festival
B1) Actuary – Only Ghosts Hate New Things
B2) Actuary – Inhuman Bondage
B3) Actuary – Ritual Embrace