forestpunk

A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Merzbow Monday: Merzbow – Hybrid Noisebloom (1997) album review

1997’s Hybrid Noisebloom is a Long Dark Spin Cycle of the Soul, leaving you ecstatically exhausted, wrung out, and cleansed.

Reviewing noise records is funny business. In a certain respect, it seems antithetical to the genre itself. Aren’t placing value judgements or deciding if an album’s worthy of yr filthy lucre the exact opposite of why Noise even exists in the first place? The other approach – call it stream-of-consciousness gonzo criticism, a la the school of Lester Bangs – runs the risk of only being useful to the reviewer themselves. The off-the-cuff riffing and ceaseless barrage of random or senseless imagery or impressions could also diminish or make light of the compositional rigour that goes into the best Noise Music.

To state whether or not a Noise album is a good record or not requires determining why yr listening to Noise in the first place. The philosophical slipperiness of “the Good” demands it. Good for what?

While it’s largely going to be subjective and different for every artist, one of my main personal motivations for listening to Noise is an act of reclamation – an act of making peace with the insanely noisy acoustic environments i call home. Rather than living with frayed nerves and a constant headache, why not turn that jackhammer into a rhythm section? The incessant shriek of sirens into a modern classical brass section?

Rather than living with frayed nerves and a constant headache, why not turn that jackhammer into a rhythm section? The incessant shriek of sirens into a modern classical brass section?

By this metric Hybrid Noisebloom is a damn fine Noise record indeed. Its industrial cacophany, its proto-Digital onslaught goes hard for the entire duration of its daunting, nearly 80 minute runtime. It’s a lot to take in even in multiple listens, with several different reviewers talking about being exhausted, used up by the time silence descends again upon yr ears.

They must not be too used to listening to Noise records then. If you know Merzbow, most of these sounds won’t be unfamiliar. You’ll be able to appreciate the whining circularity underpinning album opener “Plasma Birds,”sounding like some great sprinkler system outside some metaphysical factory, CNC lathes spinning mechanical birds in a hissing rainbow of sparks. You’ll recognize the scouring abrasive canned air of Masami Akita’s trademarked Harsh Noise. You will acknowledge the fidelity of the shortwave radio dial on “Minotaurus” like some restless hand seeking sentient life in a deaf, dumb universe, finding some insectile broadcasts which are too regular to be random but far too alien to be translatable.

You’ll be able to appreciate the whining circularity underpinning”Plasma Birds,”sounding like some great sprinkler system outside some metaphysical factory, CNC lathes spinning mechanical birds in a hissing rainbow of sparks.

For those who are even more used to Noise music in general and Merzbow’s discography in particular, you can even comment on Hybrid Noisebloom in the context of Akita’s work in general. It’s an overwhelming, maximalist affair compared to the relative austerity and minimalism of Akita’s earliest work like E-Study, coming straight out the gate with an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-inside-an-intergalactic-laboratory from deadbang. From there Hybrid Noisebloom is more of a matter of removal and absence than build and break, as the industrial fury of “Plasma Birds” sloooowly transforms, becoming first the almost-hypnotic “Mouse Of Superconception” and then the rather drab HNW of “Minotaurus,” which, by that point, sounds rather soothing and amniotic, like a comforting analog skin in a stripped, digital world.

Hybrid Noisebloom is one of the best among Merzbow’s nearly endless back catalog. It showcases Noise music as a subsect of improvisation. No matter how free and easy it may seem, nor what it’s made out of, improv calls for the performer to have some sort of nuance and control of their instrument, whatever that instrument may be, that they may respond to the moment and communicate complicated emotions in the crucible of the moment. Nearly 20 years into his career, Masami Akita has not only a lexicon of Noise moves but whole vocabularies, a grammar of piercing feedback and whirling dynamos, misshapen square waves and howling sirens.

You’ll be left clean as a bone and soft as faded denim, once it’s done.

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