PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Merzbow Merges Metal and Experimental Music on the Ferocious 'Venereology'

Japanese icon Merzbow's classic foray into death metal, Venereology, has been remastered for maximum brutality.

Venereology
Merzbow

Relapse

1 March 2019

Dissident aggressor, unapologetic artist, naïve egoist, pornography expert. These are some of the monikers of Japanese experimentalist Masami Akita. The name of his project is Merzbow, taken from the title of a Dadaist painting by Kurt Schwitters and this is no surprise, considering Akita's artistic sensibility lies somewhere on the spectrum between subjective abstractionist and unforgiving provocateur. His hyper-prolific career (he has released something close to 400 studio albums and numerous other collaborations, live albums, and EPs) is emblematic of a musician defined by a passion for extremism.

Growing up in Japan and studying art at Tamagawa University, Akita could have been frequently found listening to or playing drums in psychedelic and progressive rock bands. Around 1980 however, he formally renounced his past music career and "abandoned concepts like 'career and skill'". Recklessly exploring the harshness of experimental soundscapes, Akita cites the desire to try and create the "same feeling as a secret porn customer for the people buying [his] cassettes in the early '80s".

By 1994, Merzbow had a significant underground reputation for creating harsh and discordant noise electronica. Venereology is an important step forward for the Japanese legend. It is his foray into metal music or at least his interpretation of it. Released by metal label Relapse Records, it represents their attempt to move into experimental noise circles and also gives Merzbow the widest exposure of his career to this point. Inspired by grindcore, death metal, and copious beer-drinking, Venereology is wailing, excruciating listen that cuts with a kind of ferocity so severe that listening to it feels like a total assault on your sanity.

"Ananga-Ranga Part 1" begins with a thudding akin to that of a jackhammer, digging into a realm of sound so harsh that listening to it borders on an act of self-harm. After escaping the warbling, suffocating throng of the first three tracks, "Last Splash" begins with the strumming of guitar before returning to a chaotic frenzy of sound. A highlight of the album is "Slave New Desart", a thundering march of glitchy, pulsating noise and horrifying laughter. By the time the album comes to "TD 3", the listener will likely have turned this off or be completely paralyzed by the strangulating effects of this whirlwind of madness. Included on the remaster are "Outtracks" 1 and 2, providing Merzbow die-hards with 20 minutes of cacophonic high-frequency Merz-metal.

While no one would ever declare this a metal album upon first listen, Venereology certainly sounds like Akita's interpretation of the genre. Rather than emulating a death metal sound, he seems to be attacking it, exposing it as a childlike facsimile of real heavy music. This is much more extreme, grating, offensive, and terrifying than anything happening in even the most serious metal of the 1990s like Godflesh or Morbid Angel. Remastered by James Plotkin (Lotus Eaters, Scorn) and the cover design given an update by Jonathan Canady (Dead World), Venereology is more caustic and hostile than ever. It is a sound that Merzbow will become infamous for, and one that will lead to collaborations with significant rising metal acts like Boris, Full of Hell, and Sunn O))).

Perhaps an avenue towards understanding this type of music is included within the title. Surrounding all of Merzbow's personality is a fascination with harmful fetishism, the study of perversity, and an exploration into the most degraded territory. Listening to over an hour of Merzbow in one sitting, one comes to realize that there is a critical point of attention when focusing on material of this level of hostility and extremity. Like with all forms of masochism, if you can refuse to surrender to this level of pain, you may be able to breach this wall and emerge into a position of transcendent bliss.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.