Last year’s recorded debut from Nazoranai, the collaboration between like-minded avant-gardists Stephen O’Malley, Keiji Haino and Oren Ambarchi was a delight to fanboys, overly-serious musos and seasoned doom freaks alike, a dark and nebulous effort that forged three unique sounds and talents into something tangible yet always just out of reach. It seemed unlikely that the trio would be back together again for anything other than the odd festival one-off so their announcement of a full tour was a welcome, if worrying, treat: how do you bring something so seemingly ephemeral back to life? As it turns out, you don’t. You simply exceed the old boundaries so far that the album is left sounding unfinished, like a diluted fragment of the whole.
After the three take to the stage in silence, it’s Haino that makes the first move, a violent jerking motion that’s accompanied by much flailing of hips and hair and a rising surge of chaotic distortion that’s louder than the gates of Hell slamming shut. His companions quickly follow suit, O’Malley’s basswork muddled and adhering loosely to his own fine-tuned sense of timing, gradually growing more weird and becoming tangled in its own web of loops and static while Ambarchi throws everything out at once, steamrolling across his kit with manic precision, clattering out unearthly rhythms with a sense of punctual grace that looms somewhere in the midst of madness. Gradually, they begin to simmer down, but never blatantly so, given that Haino’s frenzied wall of noise never really lets up. It’s more that they seem to find a common ground and take root, and this is where the weird thing happens: they begin to sounds like a rock band.
There’s a definite purpose and structure in there, there are passages and movements, and most of all there’s a solid groove that shifts and pulsates but never gives up, O’Malley delivering a natural performance that harks back to the blues roots of doom yet occasionally delves into territories that can best be described as funky. It’s undeniably alien at first, given that his playing is about five times faster than his typical fare, but there’s no denying that tonight seemingly shifts at his whims alone, his groove and sonic weight the linchpin that the trio rely on.
Ambarchi, for his part, is simply staggering. It may be something as simple as an affinity due to years of collaboration, but he and SOMA seem psychically linked tonight. Not only is his timing as keen as a freshly-honed straightrazor but he shares O’Malley’s ability to hop between extremes with no visible forethought, tapping out swift, fleeting jazz rhythms and gliding across the snare’s surface then flailing wildly a half-heartbeat later. The only real difference with the two is that while O’Malley’s stoic picking leaves him looking distant and lost, Oren always remains in the moment, his face contorting to match the constantly shifting moods that the performance evokes.
Perhaps controversially, Haino’s contributions are simultaneously the most and the least interesting aspects of tonight’s set. While O’Malley has left behind his reliance on sloth-like subsonics to deliver a stream of dubby, watertight doom and Ambarchi has thrown himself in with gusto, a jarring contrast to his usually immaculate and measured self, Haino simply sounds like Haino. Ascending and descending with varying scales of discordance, he’s a truly wild and unpredictable figure on stage, occasionally stepping to the microphone to yell indecipherables like a muezzin on bath salts, only to float back, stare at the ceiling and fire off another neck-molesting attack. When the flow of the performance ebbs back, settling into abstract jazz-noir calm, there’s still a peculiar intensity that follows him through the muted chords and subtle washes of fuzz, with seemingly no intention of turning itself off until he leaves the stage. When he abandons his guitar for a noise box, it quickly becomes another instrument of extremity, stabbing bursts of white-light screeches that contribute heavily to the inevitable complaints of tinnitus that’ll be getting harked on about tomorrow.
As O’Malley and Haino fall silent, only a steady snare/bass beat remains for a minute until finally it disappears too and a rush of applause greets the three. Perhaps they’re taking delight in the element of surprise or maybe it’s just that they realise they still have five minutes of set time left, but they abruptly flare up again moments later in a whirlwind of sound and chaos, attempting nothing but being noisy and brash and a little crazy and succeeding admirably. It brings tonight full circle to the searing rush of their opening throes and leaving a final impression of three unhinged masters doing what they do best, a commendable encore to an already astounding performance that plumbed darkness and came out on the other side gleaming.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes
Photos by: Peter Davidson