Review: Zouo ‘Agony憎悪Remains’

Surprising as it was to see Relapse Records reissue GISM’s Detestation recently – perhaps the most infamous and legendary of the 80s Japanese hardcore canon – it’s perhaps slightly less of bolt from the blue to see the short lived combo end up on the label. For one thing they’ve been oft championed by Dwid of label mates Integrity, and vocalist Katsunori ‘Cherry’ Nishida new band S.H.I. (Struggle Harsh Immortals) also currently call Relapse home.

Zouo ‘Agony憎悪Remains’

Given the music contained herein isn’t 100 miles away from G.I.S.M in many respects, it probably seemed like a relatively safe step. But Zouo only gave the world two official studio recordings in the form of one 7” and two compilation tracks. So here they’re presented with assorted live recordings to fill out some space. This isn’t the first reissue or compilation of Zouo’s limited output, but it’s perhaps the first one to reach a wider audience.

Spawned by their own admission as a result of Discharge (No Power and Cherry’s obvious aping of Kelvin Morris make this abundantly clear), Zouo’s crudity and heaviness, perhaps by accident, also gives a substantial nod in the direction of both Venom and Motörhead. While that group of influences is certainly nothing new now, Zouo’s Final Agony 7″, which make up the first four tracks, was one of the earliest examples of a band harnessing the extremes of punk and metal.

And while their visual aesthetic was punk as fuck, Sons Of Satan and particularly Making Love With The Devil, surely make the metal influence apparent with a weird degree of brutalist charm. As crude as GISM were, Zouo come across like their sloppier little brothers. The guitars are fuzzier, the vocals snottier, the tempos a little faster, the recording more lo-fi. The cult following the 7”, along with the two comp tracks here – the distinctly more chugging You Like It That Way and the faster Frustration – are effectively more of the same if you’ve never heard them.

one of the earliest examples of a band harnessing the extremes of punk and metal…

The remainder of the compilation consists of a selection of bootleg live recordings of largely otherwise unrecorded songs from the 83/84 era. While the studio material will be of more interest to people unfamiliar, the live recordings are definitely for the die hard only. To be honest, you realise working through these that as legendary as they are, Zouo were not exactly loaded with musical ideas, and tracks blend into one another pretty quickly. The studio recordings are an interesting time capsule as they inadvertently melted the barriers between the burgeoning punk and metal scenes of the time. The live recordings actually lack the magic, and don’t really add much. Largely because, let’s face it, a lot of these songs were pretty mediocre and go in one ear and out the other. Time Bomb and Fuck The God are rippers, but that’s about it.

Zouo and many of their peers really are bands that arguably are for connoisseurs only, for the initiated and the obsessed. Zouo played a raw, animalistic form of mostly mid paced punk that was very much of a time and place. A lot of it as we can see here, hasn’t aged particularly well and while it’s historically important, the edges have been dulled over the decades. Sure, they’ve influenced a bunch of DIY crust and punk bands in the depths of that scene, and sure if you’re an underground historian or fan of ultra-primitive Hellhammer style black metal looking for a punk equivalent, you’d be well served here. It’s hard otherwise to see what a wider audience are going to make of this largely archival release.

Frankly, it’s difficult to see anyone not already familiar with the scene this band came from to give a shit about it, and conversely the die hard Japanese hardcore fetishists will probably have picked up the archival releases on Blackwater and Crust War from a few years ago, which cover the same material extensively. Perhaps just reissuing the studio recordings alone would have been a more useful format, as the live recordings are far from essential.

Still, while largely for completists only, I guess it’s nice to have an affordable archival release that will hopefully see some cash flow back to this oft bootlegged band. Now if we could just get Relapse to reissue OUTO or LIPCREAM next…

Label: Relapse Records
Band Links: Bandcamp

Scribed by: Jamie Grimes