A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Merzbow Monday: Merzbow – Scandal (Room40, 2021)

A trio of lost recordings from 1992 to 1995 flies in the face of the idea that Merzbow is overly-prolific. 

If you’ve ever read any reviews of Merzbow, or any noise music really, or, even better yet, played any for the non-initiated, you’ve likely heard the same refrains, “it all sounds the same,” and “anyone could do that.” The first sentiment could likely be said by anyone not overly familiar with a style of music, whether that be jazz or death metal or techno. As for the latter – yes, anyone can make noise music. That’s part of the point. Not everybody does, however, let alone extensively for decades

The closest corollary may be free jazz, forsaking any ideas around technique or musical form, valuing expression over all. At the time, some of jazz’s old guard took issue with free jazz, with the postmodernist ideal that any noise was as valid as another. They felt like they were being clowned, with these brash young punks suggesting their brash, atonal squawks and skronks was the same as their instrumental prowess, which they themselves had sometimes spent decades cultivating. And they wouldn’t be wrong… 

Some free jazz musicians were entirely adept at their instruments, however, or an instrument at least. Some switched to a non-primary instrument so as to not be confined by preconceived techniques and tired tricks, all in a bid to unchain jazz from its Tin Palley origins. 

With all of this in mind, Merzbow is like some outsider genius who took the time to master whoopee cushion balloon noises; a rubber band stretched between two nails. Masami Akita can play the radio like nobody’s business. He is the Paganini of junk. 

Masami Akita can play the radio like nobody’s business. He is the Paganini of junk. 

All of which we are reminded of on Scandal, a trio of lost recordings from 1992 to 1995 unearthed for the always excellent Room40 label. It’s like the missing link of Merzbow records, bridging the gap between Akita’s earliest junk sculpture bricolage live noise and later studio fuckery. It’s the best of both worlds and a true treasure for Merzbow acolytes. 

Scandal by Merzbow

Scandal is made up of three lengthy pieces, each of which is broken up into smaller movements. First up is “Tokyo Blue Sky,” a truly minimalist set of field recordings in line with Merzbow’s first performance-based recordings. It’s less a piece of music and more a piece of found sound of someone building a table. The sky breaks loose on “Tokyo Blue Sky II,” a more classic slab of burning oscillators and tape rumbling, while arabic flutes give the sensation of walking through a bazaar in Marrakech. The film catches in the projector, though, and the memories start to burn, the airy field recordings bursting into flame like a flaming oil derrick. 

The film catches in the projector, though, and the memories start to burn, the airy field recordings bursting into flame like a flaming oil derrick. 

Scandal by Merzbow

Next up is “1992 – 1995,” the album’s centrepiece and a piece of classic Merzbow noise that every serious Merzbow fan needs to hear, again bridging the gap ‘tween some of Akita’s early era noisemoves and the furious harsh noise that would become synonymous with the project. “1992+1995 I” builds off of a sustained organ drone, like some of the earliest Merzbow recordings, which gives the whole affair a spooky old silent movie flavour, having you tip-toeing down long, dark corridors, drapery blowing eerily in chilled drafts. This quickly gives way to post-industrial rattle and clamour, though, clattering turbines and amid viscous liquids, vacuum hoses and analog pulses and white noise hiss  – the long dark Spin Cycle of the Soul, like Merzbow unspooling film from yr subconscious and developing what he finds there. It all comes out in the wash. 

Scandal by Merzbow

The field recordings give way entirely on “Evening Scandal,” the last piece on display, morphing into Power Electronics mode instead – all life support beeps, turbines and small engines grinding into the night, like some malefic infernal sweatshop. It manages to find that sweet spot between soothing and harshness, thanks largely to expert mixing and mastering, letting you fall under the hypnotic spell of machine riddims while an ocean spray of white noise and a jumblesale of rickety clatter washes yr soul clean, like a metaphysical rock tumbler.

Scandal is an absolutely essential Merzbow release, for fanatics and neophytes alike.

Scandal is out now on Room40. CD version comes with a print of a collage by Masami Akita.

Scandal collage by Masami Akita. credit//room40
Scandal by Merzbow

Got a particular favourite Merzbow album you’d like to see us review as part of our Merzbow Monday series? Or another classic noise album you’d like to see us weigh in on? Let’s us know in the comments or get in touch via Twitter!

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This entry was posted on June 1, 2021 by in 66.6 series, album reviews, Best New Music, new releases and tagged , , , , , , .

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