Review: Keiji Haino & SUMAC ‘Into this juvenile apocalypse our golden blood to pour let us never’
Like all good ideas, it’s surprising that the combination of free music monolith Kenji Haino and experimental heavyweights SUMAC hadn’t happened before 2018.
Into this juvenile apocalypse… follows 2018s American Dollar Bill… and 2019s Even just for the briefest moment… (titles shortened on the account of being incredibly long). Once again, this is a totally improvised, spontaneous recording in six tracks. SUMAC and Haino had no discussions at all before they went on stage together.
Before getting into this specific album, it is worth looking at the what and the why of improvised music because it helps us understand why these guys work so well. And trigger warning: I am going to quote a few people in this, because they have more intelligent views than I have.
Saxophonist Evan Parker explains the appeal of free improvisation in an interview with the Guardian in 2017: ‘There are people that hear it once and think ‘my God, what the hell was that?’ But they creep back because there’s something that has connected for them – it has touched some part of their sense of what music can be – is a very simple way of putting it, of what life can be or what life is […] There’s a world view perhaps involved, which touches people.’
‘A changed world view’ rings very true with Haino, who told an interviewer from Vice in 2016 ‘In my mind, improvisation is about going somewhere different.’ And it would be fair to say he has ferociously pursued this ‘somewhere different’ since he began working in the 1970s. Check out his performance with his band Fushitsusha at St John-at-Hackney, back in 2012, to get a sense of what this looks like.
Speaking of the venues, the choice of musical space matters to improvised music. Into this juvenile apocalypse… was performed in the bar of the Astoria Hotel on Vancouver BC’s East Hastings Street, a socially deprived area of the city (although efforts are being made to change this). By making this recording in a space not conducive to musical performance, in a socially troubled area, these guys are making a pretty big statement.
Guitarist Aaron Turner explained SUMAC’s outlook to Revolver in 2019, ‘I want people to know that this music is about connectivity, it’s about learning how to love yourself, love other people, and finding things that are at the base of all of us, that make that connection possible, rather than this idea of that’s often been associated with metal where it’s just a rejection of a lot of things; this is about embracing things’. To use a word Turner had brought up before in this interview, it’s finding and sharing the ‘exuberance’ of the performers. In a free improvisation setting, the audience gets to see the creative process in real time.
It is notable that this will be the fourth recorded and released collaboration between these two musical entities. Haino has collaborated with everyone from Derek Bailey to Merzbow, but often not for many releases. Haino does have a tendency to take the limelight on collab projects, which is unsurprising given his presence, but it can render the other musicians as ‘the backing band’. However, more so than the previous releases with Turner & Co, Haino is very much on a level with SUMAC here, with his unpredictable, noisy improvisation, meeting the metallic, earthy heaviness of the band.
[Turner] meets and joins Haino’s ethereal picking and adds the thonk and grit that SUMAC are so good at…
Finally, on the subject of this particular record, what is immediately clear is that the chemistry between these guys has only improved, building on the previous three albums. On every lurching, energetic track there is still space for everyone to contribute, without losing any of the magic.
The opener When logic rises morality falls Logic and morality in Japanese are but one character different feels like a warm-up overall, with mostly guitar washes and noodles for the first two-thirds of the track, before Haino’s shrieks begin and momentum builds. But from there on in, you have only got the good stuff.
Bass player Brian Cook and drummer Nick Yacyshyn deserve a special shout out for their parts. Yacyshyn’s drumming is deeply intuitive, managing to patter and crash at the perfect moments. Cook perhaps shows his best moments on the second and fourth tracks with some crunchy, heavy, heavy bass tones. On A shredded coiled cable within this cable sincerity could not be contained sees the rhythm section build a morphing, grooving metallic texture that Turner is able to bring his grade-A vocals in on top of.
Turner is excellent as always, obviously. He meets and joins Haino’s ethereal picking and adds the thonk and grit that SUMAC are so good at. He supports Haino’s solos and detours, which is no small achievement. The result is a series of tracks that truly keep your attention. I was surprised when the record ended frankly.
Much like its predecessors, you are aware that you are navigating through space with the band, but it doesn’t drag, it’s tense because you’re waiting for the next thing to happen. Without wanting to give too much away, the fifth track That fuzz pedal you planted in your throat, its screw has started to come loose Your next effects pedal is up to you do you have it ready? Is the jewel in the crown because it sounds like the most coordinated, yet heaviest and most alienating of the whole record.
It’s not for the faint hearted, but as Haino said (last damn quote, for real) about his audiences, ‘I want to help them have fun, even for just a moment’ (Vice, 2016).
Into this juvenile apocalypse our golden blood to pour let us never by Kenji Haino and SUMAC was released on 7th October by Thrill Jockey.
Label: Thrill Jockey Records
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Scribed by: James Bullock