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.