In a music world crowded with pop starlets and gangster thug wannabees, you wouldn’t guess that two of the year’s biggest bands have offered two widely different styles of aggressive music. The Mars Volta, with their sprawling, Latin-fueled prog album Frances the Mute, have won critical and fan acclaim for their wide-open explorations. On the other side of the spectrum, System of a Down have returned with vengeance, garnering regular video and radio rotation with their inspired hybrid grind, metal, funk, and R & B. This is certainly a more challenging change of pace for the regular music fan.
It’s hard to believe then, that in 1998, a Japanese duo by the name of Ruins had already released an album that runs circles around what most progressive acts are doing now. Vrresto, denied a domestic North American release until now, has been freshly remixed and remastered by the good folks at the proudly freaked-out label Skin Graft. In addition, Ruins founder, drummer. and main songwriter Yoshida Tatsuya has even re-recorded a couple of tracks, as well as spliced in two brand new numbers, making this not just a re-release but a re-presentation of the material.
To the uninitiated, it’s difficult to describe what Ruins exactly sound like. A quick look at the cover of Vrresto gives a clue to the musical direction Ruins will take you in. The elliptical, mirrored image of an intricate stone sculpture is a perfect visual metaphor for the heavily jazz- and prog-inspired skronk Ruins put forth. What sounds like a run of random noise and sheep like bleats to the casual listener, reveals itself as a highly organized chaos. Ruins use a riff or sonic idea as a launch point for their Ritalin-fuelled performances. From there they explore, disregard, trash, invigorate and reinvent, continuing to recontextualize and repackage their ideas as quickly as they come. This idea of controlled spontaneity will find appreciation as much with grind fans as avant garde jazz enthusiasts.
Though the liner notes list little more than drums, a six string bass and MIDI controller, the group demands close and repeated listening. Their brilliantly structured compositions, in songs that range in length from less than a minute, to nearly seven minutes, are what make Vrresto a constantly engaging and undeniably compulsive listening experience. Not just relying on instrumental prowess to take the reins, tracks like “Quopern” find their hook with a near-operatic vocal melody, repeated throughout the song. Sometimes it’s a simple studio effect that will jolt the listener to attention, such as the swirling hard panned bass of “Savollodix”. “Dagdad” subtly slides in string-like bass picking interlude in its barely minute-long rollercoaster ride. But more often than not it’s the simple technical prowess that amazes. “Kplaigoth” benefits from a tremendous bass progression by Sasaki Hisashi that would make Les Claypool blush and ridiculously tight drumming from Tatsuya. With its intricate timing and ambient bass work in the latter half, “Kplaigoth” is one of the disc’s many standouts.
But a discussion about Vrresto must include a few words on Tatsuya’s vocal style, which adds another level to the already dexterous musical workout. Much like Mike Patton (whose label Ipecac has a couple Ruins releases under their belts), Tatsuya can howl, bark, spit, sing, and croon with equal efficiency and passion. However, despite the language barrier, Tatsuya’s delivery retains an emotional levity that is surprisingly palpable.
With a history that spans two decades, and a grocery shopping list-length discography behind them, there is no better place to start getting to know Ruins than with Vrresto. While the sheer, nearly endless energy will impress even the most jaded of listeners, the fact that this disc is already seven years old will simply astound.
// Notes from the Road
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