[26 May 2004]
Acid Mothers Temple runs at the forefront of Japan’s underground movement and, in the last couple of years, has started making headway abroad. The band’s success in 2002, first with In C and then Electric Heavyland, has ensured a certain amount of anticipation for, not to mention expectation in, the release of a new album. They have a lot to live up to, having collected fans on the premise of taking their music and shoving it unrelentingly (or perhaps that should be unrepentantly?) into one’s ears in the form of aural rape. In C, modeled on the original piece by minimalist composer Terry Riley, met this criterion in the form of an unforgiving drone played on an assortment of cosmic-sounding instruments. Electric Heavyland, as the title suggests, pursues the other end of the sonic spectrum in a deluge of psychedelia and what the band’s label, Alien8 Recordings, calls, “over-the-top intensity due to its undeniable heaviness.”
To be simplistic, the latest offering, Mantra of Love, finds its place as a sort of happy medium to the aforementioned previous releases. In short, it’s the kind of music that can lull you into mistakenly taking it as an understatement in and of itself. Opening with a traditional Occitan piece, it begins by creating a wash of beautiful, shimmering sounds, featuring a short motif played on a sitar with lead singer Cotton Casino’s vocals in a repetitive incantation that leads you into a false sense of serene comfort. After a time, you start to nestle into the music and zone out, trusting it to continue to wrap protectively around you, but then suddenly you’ve broken out of the cocoon and you’re running for the stereo, club in hand, tearing at your hair to pull those sounds out of your head. The vocals gone, Kawabata Makoto on the electronic sitar is let loose into the foreground, augmenting a phrase, whipping it into a frenzied mess with the synthesizer spinning cartwheels in the distant background. If your sanity can withstand this and your stereo lives, the reward is a plush meadow of cooing vocals and gentle sitar pluckings amongst happy jumping bunnies. And so the cycle continues; the next time the test is more arduous, but the reward is sweeter, and by the end of the perfectly timed half hour, you’re lying out of breath on the floor feeling like you’ve just gone through five weeks of boot camp.
And that was only the first track. The second, “L’Ambition dans le Miroir”, closes up the album neatly in 15 minutes. Opening with space age-type warped noises and tiny Indian bells, the track develops almost naturally with a slow repetitive motif that carries the seductive vocals of Cotton Casino. After the first track, this is almost easy-listening and serves as the conclusion seeking to soothe the taut nerves. Nevertheless, it retains just enough grit to keep you on edge, with psychedelic swirls and loops that continuously threaten to leap into the abyss, taking you with them, at any given moment.
It is clear that the band has lost none of its powers to possess, but the biggest area of improvement is in production quality, noticeable because without the clean lines of sound to trap and release you at will, the music would lose its grip. This is perhaps the most structurally cogent work in their output to date and it is this development that carries the music to a new level. Listening to Mantra of Love is not an activity that should be undertaken lightly, and it would be futile to resist the experience that it offers. Submit, and you’ll be in for a treat.