In Dante’s Inferno, the second circle begins the proper punishment of Hell, a place where “no thing gleams.” It is reserved for those overcome with Lust, where carnal appetites hold sway over reason. In Nine Circles, it’s where we do shorter reviews of new (ish) albums that share a common theme.
In today’s edition of Second Circle we take a look at the latest releases from grind legends, who happen to share a magnificent collaborative past (Gridlink, Hayaino Daisuki) and have now reached stunning creative apexes with their respective new albums. Whether it is pure serendipity or part of a divine plan that these albums are released on the same day only adds to their allure. So let’s dive head first into the unhinged brilliance of Takafumi Matsubara and No One Knows What The Dead Think.
Strange, Beautiful and Fast is dedicated to Takafumi Matsubara’s fallen friend and colleague Hee Chung (Unholy Grave) and the album is powered not only by this loss but also by grind’s innate wildness, wonder and intensity and the strong bond of friendship Matsubara has established over the years with the myriad contributors on this release. Speaking of the latter, the list comprises a veritable who’s who of contemporary grind and noise, with members of wrecking crews such as Antigama Chepang, Cognizant, Full of Hell, Khanate, Organ Dealer, Merzbow and Wormrot (to name but a few) dropping by to rain destruction.
And let me tell you, rarely does an album’s title match its contents and stylistic essence so accurately. The 17 songs carry wildly varying displays of guitar wizardry with countless hooks and an undeniable master of dynamics, which helps avoid grind’s usual archetypal stumbling block of enervating homogeneity. A brilliant manifestation of boundless creativity and collaborative energy, Strange, Beautiful and Fast sees Matsubara and his associates breaking free from the oft-rigid framework and limitations of traditional grind. Just wait until you hear “मेटिन लागेको अक्षर“ and reach the point where everything else pauses to give room for a triumphant fretboard run which launches the song into unexpectedly playful territory where your hips cannot help but sway. And how the moments of unanticipated wistfulness carried by the guitar lead melodies gliding above the sheer devastation and cleansing firestorm of “Void Walker” happen to elevate one of the highlights of the album with surprising grace and gravitas. Palate-cleansing experimental curveballs abound, be it the nightmarish landscape of “Pull Out My Eyes” that would not feel out of place in an Imperial Triumphant or Pyrrhon album, the rap assault and funk bass of “Abstract Maelstroms,” or the immense industrial-grade caterpillar track massage that is “S.A.M.”
Fear not, Matsubara and his allies have not gone all soft and artsy, as the album opener “Stuttered Rope” disintegrates such anxieties right out of the gate with immaculate grind perfection that begins with already cataclysmic levels of intensity that somehow keep on escalating and morphing, with tiny pockets of rapidly diminishing oxygen to hastily refill lungs in before the eventual violent end, long foretold by the permeating feeling of impending collapse. For those missing Matsubara’s insane guitar acrobatics, look no further than “Path to Isolation” and its ascending and descending fretboard runs.
I have to admit that I was initially perplexed by the album’s production choices that often differ somewhat drastically from one song to the next, before realizing that rather than causing a sonic nuisance or implying an uneven quality of artistic output, this variance provides intriguing stylistic divergence and makes the collection of tracks feel like ten different grind albums worth of material that is impressively squeezed into a high-pressure container that is bursting at its seams.
Considering that five years ago Matsubara faced a severe medical emergency which threatened to end his tenure as grind innovator extraordinaire and the ability to play guitar ever again, Strange, Beautiful and Fast is nothing short of a personal and artistic triumph and a celebration of life and grind as something effervescent and wondrous that truly befits the title of the album.
Takafumi Matsubara will be in the US for the first time in 11 years, with live shows to promote the release of Strange, Beautiful and Fast in Baltimore on 20 September, and in NYC on 21 September. Be sure to seize this rare opportunity to witness the legend in action.
Jon Chang and Rob Marton, former brothers in arms who served in Discordance Axis, enlist the firepower of drummer Kyosuke Nakano and join forces on the envelope-pushing No One Knows What The Dead Think, an album which both continues the stylistic legacy of Chang and Marton’s boundary-shattering unit and serves as a decisive conclusion of its discography, made literal by the fact that the final track of their self-titled album is a souped-up “hard reboot” of an early Discordance Axis song of the same name.
Verily, the gents have come full circle and done so in an exhilarating manner. Chang’s shrieks remain those of a banshee whose vocal cords are successfully fighting against being torn apart in the face of cataclysmic shockwaves in the time-space continuum. Marton dishes out his signature Möbius strip riffs that remain illusive, evasive and twisting through and through. Such strangely spiraling sharp bursts take center stage and Marton’s guitar work has a mesmerizing melodic flair that is irresistible (with the one-two opening punch of “Yorha” and “Autumn Flower” as resounding statement of intent and prime example of Marton’s Midas touch) and yet somehow often radiates an unusually easygoing groove hidden behind manic spurts and zigzagging dashes.
With a succinct run-time of merely 18 minutes, the songs form a rapid succession of episodic injections of chaos in a narrative of non-stop onslaught that nevertheless remains in complete control and direction of the trio. If this is indeed the definitive ending to the Discordance Axis saga, they sure went out not with a whimper but a bang heard across galaxies.