Review: Bastard Noise & Merzbow ‘Retribution By All Other Creatures’

Two absolute fucking titans of the underground meet to create an album together. Neither Bastard Noise nor Merzbow should need any introduction if you have even the slightest interest in extreme music or harsh sounds. Both have decades of work in expanding the horizons of sonic brutalism under their respective belts, and this is not their first time working together having already released a split on Relapse together entitled Voice Pie in the mid ‘90s.

Bastard Noise & Merzbow 'Retribution By All Other Creatures'

The collaboration offers up two of their most powerful, tightly structured works in recent times to open proceedings. Animals Running Human Factory Farms feels like a surreal film for the mind, twenty minutes alternating between mind-altering frequency manipulation, alarm like electronic pulses, and unexpected twists. Early on there’s a moment where the noise drops out and Eric Wood delivers a guttural evocation of some kind of bizarro world slaughterhouse over a deeply unnerving set of building ambient tones that happens so suddenly, it’s more jarring than any high-pitched feedback you can imagine.

This kicks off a build-up that reaches its climax with some surprisingly musical synthesizers. It sounds like it was recorded on the moon. Without warning however, it’s not long before we are back in the eye of a circling storm, being raised towards the heavens. You can feel the ascending frequencies that finish the track in your stomach.

This Is How Human Waste Rolls starts with an absolute blast to the ears that will deafen you if listened to on decent headphones before again it settles down into a more eerie timbre, and those vocals return. Bursts of mangled static penetrate unexpectedly between verses. This leads us off to follow another exploration of textures that veer from early electronic abstraction, to full on violence. At one point there’s a sound that could well be the amplified screams of a dying animal, brutally bringing to mind the mistreatment of animals at the core of these two tracks.

What keeps both Bastard Noise and Merzbow relevant so far into their respective careers is their continuing ability to refine what they do, to keep reaching for something they haven’t done or you haven’t heard before…

Moving on, we get Part 1 and Part 2 of ZooNOsISE. Perhaps feeling a little more free form than the Bastard Noise tracks, Masami Akita still manages to create two pieces here that morph in both sound and mood throughout. Part 1 has a section early on where the laser like chirps and swirls clash over a sustained chord that creates a sense of tension and movement, rather than any kind of random selection of sounds. Again, it’s a lot more musical than you might suspect if you’ve not delved too far into the Merzworld before, or have just read about Masami Akita as some sort of straight up sonic terrorist, as those chord sounds seem to shift gradually, while the electronic maelstrom unfolds over the top.

Part 2 does feel a little more Merzbow by numbers, but hey, if you’re a fan you won’t necessarily mind. It’s the harsher of his two pieces and the one that might well tire your ears out with its’ relentless wall of feedback manipulation, skipping frequencies, and juddering static bursts.

Bearing in mind Retribution By All Other Creatures comes to a total of an hour and eleven minutes, it’s safe to say this collaboration is heavy going, but it’s also, for the most part, a rewarding listen. While it’s perhaps unfair to pick a standout, it does feel like the opening tracks are the superior works just down to their sheer enormity and the range of emotions they manage to conjure up with such inhuman sounds. But Wood and Masami are no slouches as ZooNOsISE Part 1 is spellbinding.

What keeps both Bastard Noise and Merzbow relevant so far into their respective careers is their continuing ability to refine what they do, to keep reaching for something they haven’t done or you haven’t heard before. If you’ve always been intrigued by the idea of noise music (make no mistake – it’s untraditional, but this really is music at heart), or have heard of either artist but haven’t known where in their monolithic discographies to start, this could be an excellent way in. If you’re an old fan, you’ll be rewarded with some of the strongest work in recent years by both. Also, to hear a noise record so well recorded is a treat. Crystal clear and yet still utterly abrasive.

The brutality continues…

Label: Relapse Records
Bastard Noise: Official | Bandcamp | Instagram
Merzbow: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Jamie Grimes