Ruins is a record completist’s nightmare. Google the words “Ruins discography” and you will find multiple pages, all offering varying lists of Ruins releases. To complicate the matter, Ruins’ domestic releases are usually remixed, remastered and even re-recorded, giving fervent collectors reason enough to buy both versions. I can tell you that Pallaschtom was originally released in 2000, but as to where it stands in their vast discography of albums, EPs, singles, compilation appearances, and side projects, I can only report with humility that it falls in the latter part of bandleader Yoshida Tatsuya’s 20-year career.
But the hardest thing about writing a Ruins review is that it’s next to impossible to describe what they sound like with mere words. Oh sure, this can be a copout for any reviewer. I mean, how can mere words even begin to detail something as complicated and subjective as sound? I’m sure you’re wondering why I don’t just compare them to likeminded bands, but that’s also a problem. While regular rock bands exist in a world where there is already an established vocabulary and context in which to place them, Ruins is outside the realm that most ordinary listeners – and even some of the more adventurous ones – are used to. I could mention Lightning Bolt and Fantomas as points of reference, but Ruins is operating on a level that is simply foreign, even to those groups.
Over 19 tracks Ruins take prog-rock completely apart, mix in the last one hundred years of music history, and completely blow the lid off any expectations a listener will bring to this disc. Pallaschtom is the kind of album that won’t leave any songs in your mind, but moments and sections instead. It’s the kind of album where a certain 20-second portion will have you calling your friend across the country and playing it to him over the phone, just so someone else can confirm the awesomeness you just heard. You might mention the funky breakdown of “Znohjmo” or the sax-like squeals emanating from “Kippssidamn”. Perhaps the drum-and-bass call-and-response of “Guamallapish” floats your boat, or perhaps it’s the stunning ambient segments of “Celledmi Guazto”, found in the middle of one of the most full-circle progressive songs I’ve heard this side of Rush.
And while all these complex, layered, and beautiful arrangements are suitably impressing you, it will be the playing that will knock you on your ass. Largely written by drummer Tatsuya, the songs only work because Tatsuya and bassist Hisashi Sasaki are complete masters of their respective instruments. Armed with a six-string bass, Sasaki, with the help of pedals, technique, and possibly having eight fingers per hand, coaxes approximations of synths, strings, and guitars all from his instrument. Meanwhile Tatsuya is on another planet, with a furious combination of jazz, punk, and prog drumming that is as breathless as it is precise. Combined, the duo throw conventional time signatures out the window, switching them up not only song to song, but even riff to riff. But unlike those so-called “math rock” bands whose song structures sound positively labored in comparison, Ruins sound completely and insanely natural.
And just when you think you’ve had enough, just as Pallaschtom closes in on the one-hour mark, Ruins offers one final Holy Trinity of “what the fuck?” “Classical Music Medley”, “Hard Rock Medley”, and “Progressive Rock Medley” are exactly what they sound like. Acting as a reference for the rest of the disc, Ruins cover the biggest songs from each genre, flavored by their own brand of ferocity. You’ve never heard Vivaldi, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, or Black Sabbath like this. It’s a final expression of the band’s immense talent, played with such a palpable enthusiasm you can practically see the grin that I’m sure was on the band members’ faces.
Pallaschtom isn’t an easy listen, and certainly not one you’ll want to take in one sitting. However, they are unlike anything you have heard before. Ruins schools almost every contemporary avant-punk band around, with songs that are six years old.