[22 January 2009]
Pity the poor sap who is inevitably given the job of commemorating the legacy of Kawabata Makato’s Acid Mothers Temple project. Prolific to nearly comical proportions, the Acid Mothers Temple provide a listening experience that’s generally a package deal. It’s not that you can’t pick up a single Cosmic Inferno or Melting Paradise U.F.O album (to name two of the more multitudinous projects under the AMT banner) and be blown away by the mind-melting riffage and vertiginous squeals contained therein. But the band’s sonic brand name carries with it the expectation of total excess, living out the slack credo of J.R. “Bob” Dobbs: “Too much is always better than not enough”. Therefore, the hundreds of albums and dozens of variations off the central core of Makato, Shimura Koji, Higashi Hiroshi, and Tsuyama Atsushi are more than just a completist narrative. They comprise a full realization of the Acid Mothers Temple ethos.
In a way, the work load is commendable. They’ve been able to keep up their restless schedule of relentless touring and ceaseless studio recording for over ten years now, sneaking in some time in here and there to consume what sounds on their albums like copious amounts of hallucinogenic drugs (or to at least revisit said psychotropic experiences). In fact, that’s generally a good indicator as to what kind of Acid Mothers Temple album you are getting when you sit down with the recording. Was it a session where the band sounds like they did too many drugs (wherein the thundering formlessness becomes too self-consumed or willfully annihilated to leave any salvageable fallout for the sober or easily distracted listener)? Was it a session where the band sounds like they did not do enough drugs (wherein the twaddle of plucked acoustic grass grazing and tin pan drum circle pounding sounds more like a wake and bake exercise than rituals to summon an alien energy field)? Or was it a session where the band sounds like did just enough drugs? The listener who fully engages with an Acid Mothers Temple album might find that a retrospective of the whole performance unveils that the seemingly too-little moments may also have just been bubbling warmups for the enthusiastic waves of vulcanized, void-gazing freakout in the latter half of whatever jam session they precede. Pity the man who has to compile all this cacophony when Acid Mother Temple’s time comes.
Acid Mothers Temple, with the Cosmic Inferno here if any one’s keeping track, sound on Journey to the Center of the Cosmic Inferno like they’re trying to tweak the dosages. The best of Acid Mothers Temple can either come in moments or in movements, like the six “movements” that make up Journey to the Center of the Cosmic Inferno. Whether big or small, the peaks are fractionary measures which make little or no sense without the whole. Still, it’s hard not to fault the weaker passages (like the protracted sitar scribbles on the opening “1st Movement: Cosmic Inferno’s Gate”), even when their circuitousness complements the gigantism of the ensuing sonic voyage (like the orgiastic glut of effects-laden snarl on “2nd Movement: Master of the Cosmic Inferno”). One need not count the minutes on an Acid Mothers Temple album that anticipate climax, nor the proper length of time for slewing in the oozy afterbirth of said pinnacles, to find just how much time has been wasted on navel-gazing. You just either sink in or let it flow as background clatter, knowing full well that the song will eventually plunge you into the abyss.
The eastern instrumentation of that “1st Movement” is interrupted by toy sirens that initiate a state of panic which rises to an epic squaw of dying-chicken synths by the track’s end. It’s replaced by a monster dirge that makes a brief appearance at the beginning of the next movement, not to return until the 12th through the 15th minutes of “4th Movement: Ecstasy Into the Cosmic Inferno”. Inbetween there’s all sorts of off-the-wall free jazz noodling, epic high-BPM motorik drum work, and mountains of reverb to position it all within a high speed space chase. You know, the usual.
For years Acid Mothers Temple have stayed so radically off-center that it’d be hard to drastically alter their sound at this point without going full-on pop. Journey to the Center of the Cosmic Inferno is extremely competent, but it can hardly be called essential, especially with three or four new albums just around the corner. The addition of Afrirampo’s Pikachu to the lineup makes for a propulsive smattering of frenetic percussion and a much-needed warm, feminine vocal presence, particularly on the lurching “6th Movement: Shalom Cosmic Inferno”, but it’s more or less a subtle modification on the contributions of the departed Cotton Casino on earlier albums.
One day Acid Mothers Temple will run out of classic psych album titles to pun off of and will be forced to reference themselves as the definitive word on our era’s spaced-out behemoth freeform rawk. At this point, would even the most obsessive Acid-head fans, let alone the casual fans, notice if the band started releasing previously submitted material? There are those who likely long for a compilation of sorts that might round up the best of each year’s AMT releases. Journey Into the Cosmic Inferno is probably as good a yearbook as any, though its hesitant points prevent it from even bordering the stature of a definitive release. If you thrive on the kind of excess the band regularly doles out, though, this one’s for you.