A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Merzbow Monday: Merzbow – Red 2 Eyes album review

Red 2 Eyes is an early exploration with the EMS Synthi but its as noisy as you please.

When you hear the phrase “modular synth,” you might think of clean, clinical, sometimes almost sterile electronic music. It calls to mind ’50s science fiction movies, with walls of dials and pointless blinking lights; clean rooms; or, if you’ve been paying attention, slick, stark electronica in recent years. 

None of which you’ll hear when you listen to Red 2 Eyes, recorded in 1995 and released in 1996 on pink vinyl on V2 Archives. 

Red 2 Eyes is one of the first albums Merzbow recorded after laying hands on the EMS Synthi, and it shows. At this stage, Merzbow has no real mastery of the Synthi, instead using it as a noise-making apparatus, like any other. This is part of what makes Red 2 Eyes work. It’s got more of a sense of adventure and exploration, where anything can happen. It’s a thrilling listen. 

Red 2 Eyes is made up of 2 short-ish tracks and one long now. Things begin with “Red (Aka),” of which there is nothing of the clinical or the clean room. Instead, you get Einsturzende Neubauten-worthy junk percussion, throwing you all the way back to some of Merzbow’s earliest recordings in the late 70s and early 80s, giving way to pulsing, strobing electronic tones; mangled, garbled radio; and digital dither, like the TV room in the original Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, if they happened to open a portal to some malignant extraterrestrial dimension. Disembodied voices creep in towards the end, furthering the eerie uncanny feeling. 

The Synthi is far more prominent on “Eyes (Me Me),” with the modular synth becoming a kind of petri dish, growing Gods know what, occasionally lapsing into a kind of gritty, obscuring sandstorm. The digitalism is layered with the sound of air compressors and the distant thrum of a bandsaw. It’s the sound of some construction site in the desert with arcane experiments happening a scant few feet away. A jump cut ⅔ of the way through replaces the airy field recording sound with some cut-up Dada madness and fiery frenetic noise, the likes of which only Merzbow can make. 

Things coalesce on the B-side, “Red 2 Eyes,” a 13-minute stunner that will leave you reeling, jaw dragging on the floor as Merzbow pummels you again and again with every trick in his toolkit – shrieking feedback; clanging industrial percussion; abstract digital tones. It’s somehow simultaneously clinical AND aggressively noisy, like a sleek stark Atomic Age sculpture of stainless steel which is coated in foam and doused in tar and left to be eaten by termites. 

It’s somehow simultaneously clinical AND aggressively noisy, like a sleek stark Atomic Age sculpture of stainless steel which is coated in foam and doused in tar and left to be eaten by termites. 

Red 2 Eyes was released as a 10″ on pink vinyl by V2_Archief as a substitute for the original Aka Meme cassette, which has been deleted. The 10″ format is a winner for Merzbow as it gets in and gets out, never overstaying its welcome. Stunning packaging seals the deal, with a colourful psychedelic spearmint green and pink cover for the pink vinyl interior. If you like Merzbow, or noise music in general, this is one you will return to again and again. 

Red 2 Eyes is a perfect mid-period Merzbow record – a missing link between the industrial harsh noise grittiness of the early 80s and the more colourful, electronic, digital noise beginning in the late 90s and continuing to present. It’s also imaginative, creative, full of surprises and, frankly, a ton of fun. 

Red 2 Eyes was brought to our attention via the wonderful Noisextra podcast, where they also discuss the album at length. Give it a listen for even more in-depth analysis and behind-the-scenes details of this gem!

Welcome to Merzbow Monday, where we review a Merzbow album or Merz-related theme on as many Mondays as possible. Got a particular Merzbow album you’d like reviewed? Or something related to Merzbow you’d like to get our take on? Leave us a comment and let us know!


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