Noise in desperate need of space
When two forces converge, one can only hope for something equal to or greater than the sum of its parts, and 2R0I2P0— an anagrammed imposition of the words “RIP 2020″— reaches somewhere near that mark in the latest release from the beloved Relapse Records.
2020 on one hand brought the obvious abundance of dread and suffering on Earth, but on the other it further extended the prolific releases by Japanese artists Boris & Merzbow, who are collaborating for the eighth time since Boris’ Love & Evol (2019), some tracks off of which are reworked on 2R0I2P0. Merzbow’s five other album releases this past year alone should be indicative of the amount of gripping compulsivity that highlights and defines the album.
Although the record hinted more at the direction and favor of Boris’ artistic style, right off the bat, Merzbow makes sure that the lion’s share of his ear-splitting brand of harsh noise and experimental music shines through, and boy, does it shine. It might even break one’s speakers if they’re not careful (pro tip: protect your Polk/KRK speakers; you might want to use headphones for the engaging soundscapes presented).
The track “Away from You” starts off with an extremely gorgeous rock pad piece that sounds eerily similar to the pioneering ambient work “Nice” (1967) by the Crocheted Doughnut Ring, enveloped by what must be Merzbow’s click-clacking accompaniment before a full-on aural assault wages musical warfare with the dreamy, shoegazey Boris tune. The song tapers off in the middle before building back up and transitioning into “To the Beach,” which follows in a similar fashion. Wherein drone-rocker Boris presents a blooming but gloomy, heavy song, it’s devoured and digested in Merzbow’s acidic waves of pitiless cacophony, even with an obvious chorus and song structure to say the least for Japanoise music.
“Coma” assumes the role of a somewhat brief, instrumental all-noise interlude track that somewhat overstays its welcome, leading into the desperately confusing clanger of a song aptly titled “Love,” replacing somewhat normal guitar riffs and singing with semi-symphonic percussion and drunkenly beckoning psychedelic vocals. This style of trading off becomes quickly exhausted as one of the following songs, “Journey,” acts as yet another sonic bridging that interweaves seamlessly between the band’s more familiar songs and their more reserved, laid-back pieces, sandwiching the sinisterly heavy but difficult to interpret epic rock song structure of “Absolutego.”
In introducing the homestretch of the album, the 13-minute “Evol” turns the focus just barely more onto Boris’ instrumentals, amplifying Akita’s sheets of noise more and more as the drums add a tribal backbeat to the massive, droning guitar tones that slowly fade in after the chaos before it that is “Uzume.” It’s a more conceptually straightforward and cohesive Boris tune that features more melodic vocals and warmer waves of guitar pedal soundscapes in some instances and the complete, unhinged chaos of Merzbow’s selfishly impeding unfiltered electronic noice in the others.
The second-to-last track “Boris,” is actually a reworking of the brilliant, innovative Melvins tune of the same name from the 1991 album Bullhead, through which the eponymous band found its name. But the track completely fails to deliver in comparison to the original. With the song focusing significantly on Merzbow’s waves of electronic digital noise, the track comes at the expense of almost entirely neglecting Boris, which is pretty oxymoronic.
The tenth and final track, “Shadow of Skull,” also doesn’t manage to go anywhere particularly creative or distinct, at least compared to both the rest of the album as well as the artists that composed it. If anything, the track further accentuates just how much the two sometimes completely contradicting halves of the collaborative album rarely complement or build off one another in a way that is soothing in terms of dynamics, song structure and cohesiveness, circling around to a fairly disappointing concluding track, and thus, listening experience.
Of course, a Japanoise album is not expected to be anything but a stringent adherence to pure noise, or at the very least experimental music, and while still being completely respectful of rejecting the aforementioned ‘litmus test’ of dynamics, song structure and cohesiveness, at this point in time, Merzbow has thusly either staked his claim in art music by either creating extremely polarizing music as an uncompromising artist or remaining as one with a total lack of compelling progression whatsoever, as most, if not all of the material presented doesn’t all that differ from his most (in)famous release, Pulse Demon (1996). Unfortunately, Merzbow leans towards the latter, wherein he sacrifices a change or progression in sound that might be interesting for fans, critics, or even the musician themselves, for better or for worse, in order to die on the hill on noise-art that he built for himself.
At best, it’s a really abrasive album that flirts with expressive soundscapes both harsh and beautiful in nature that are enveloped in noisy-as-hell electronics, but at worst, 2R0I2P0 just sounds like Boris sent raw tracks of uninspired drone and doom metal to Merzbow, with him superimposing several noise tracks on top of it, with little to no regard for the direction of the album, the song or even the isolated parts. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for Merzbow’s work, but it most certainly is in this instance as it conclusively takes away from Boris’ supposedly complementary counterpoint without fail.