n a career as long as Merzbow’s, it comes as a surprise that the undisputed king of Japanoise still has the capacity to pull an unexpected move. Masami Akita, the man behind the Merzbow moniker, has released well over 500 albums since he first appeared in the underground tape trading community back in 1979. His oeuvre has been remarkably diversified considering the pace at which he churns out new recordings, but at its heart most of his catalogue has been a single-minded pursuit of the harshest, most un-musical sounds Akita can summon from the recesses of his black, black heart.
However, some of his past work as Merzbow has hinted at a growing fascination with rock music forms, particularly heavy metal, and nearly all of his music has been fixated on primitive rhythms. On Merzbeat, these aspects of Merzbow’s music finally take the fore, resulting in an album quite unlike any of the previous 500 in his back catalogue. Like much of his music, Merzbeat’s foundation lies in the repetition of thick, dirty, rhythmic loops -- the difference is that these loops are much more inspired by rock drumming than ever before. On each of the five tracks which make up this album, the drums are partially obscured by Akita’s familiar static-ridden production and bursts of grating noise, but the rhythms drive these songs in much the same way as they might drive a good jam by a more traditional band.
On “Forgotten Land,” Merzbow seems to be deconstructing rock, layering towering, distorted guitar riffs over a dense rhythm section, then shooting it all full of holes with a shotgun blast of noise. The result sounds like what you might hear standing outside of a particularly loud club: the music is pounding from inside, sounding watery and distant through the thick concrete walls, and the sounds of the city compete for dominance with the music.
“Looping Jane (Beat Mix)” returns to this formula, making an almost-funky beat decidedly un-funky by placing it under an array of grating whines and screeches, while “Shadow Barbarian (Long Mix)” incorporates a vaguely Middle Eastern melody (perhaps a nod to Akita’s deceased contemporary, Bryn Jones of Muslimgauze?) into a low-key, beat-driven noise stew. Sound-wise, there’s nothing on this album that will be unfamiliar to anyone who’s heard more than a handful of Merzbow albums already, but the way these familiar elements are arranged is what makes the difference. This is especially true on the fast-paced opener “Promotion Man,” which could almost be described as Akita’s unique take on punk, with stiff, tinny beats hammered out beneath a rolling riff.
The album closes with a bonus track, a remix of Merzbow’s “Amlux” by Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto, as a teaser for the new Merzbow remix collection Ikebana. Listening to this track after the rest of the album hammers home exactly how different Merzbeat is from the rest of Merzbow’s music. Despite being a remix, Dangers’ version of “Amlux” actually sounds more like a Merzbow song than most of Merzbeat: dark, full of static, and abstract, with virtually nothing to grab onto amidst the chaos. This surprisingly unadventurous remix (especially considering how promising the synthesis of Merzbow with Meat Beat sounds in concept) just underlines how great the rest of the disc sounds. It’s truly exciting to hear an established artist like Merzbow -- who’s often been accused of remaking the same album over and over again -- fucking with his sound this late in his career. Merzbeat may be far from the best album Akita’s done, but it’s an interesting variation on his well-established sound, and a relatively accessible new direction for him.
Reviewed by: Ed Howard
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01