Published Feb 26, 2019Merzbow is one of the world's premier noise artists and, with over 400 releases, the most prolific musician you don't know. This one-man outfit, helmed by Masami Akita, began recording manipulations of static, feedback and high/low frequency mechanical noise in the early '80s, building the foundation for the '90s Japanese noise scene. Released in 2000, the Merzbox 50-CD box set contains a whopping 20 discs of unreleased material. Using sounds very harsh to the ears, his albums challenge the very definition of music, sometimes with no discernable beat or cadence.
In 1994, the still-growing Relapse Records hoped to create awareness of the underground noise scene by signing Merzbow to a multi-album deal, and his first on Release — Relapse's noise imprint — was Venereology. Akita stated that this was his "death metal" album and drank lots of beer while recording it. (By the time 1996's Pulse Demon was released, he was back to recording while sober.) This new reissue is a double LP, though all of the songs on the original CD are not included. "I Lead You to Glorious Times" is curiously missing, though it is replaced with over 30 minutes of bonus tracks.
Opening with the album's lengthiest track, at over 20 minutes, "Ananga-Ranga Part 1" drills through eardrums with caustic electro-noise, modulated like a jackhammer. "Klo Ken Phantasie" begins distantly like Godflesh, but quickly mutates to Bastard Noise-esque cacophony. Similarly, "Last Splash" starts with looped guitar strumming, with a heartbeat bubbling up from the gray mass of Masonna-like feedback. The 15-minute-long "Outtrack 1" highlights venomous feedback arcs that bristle throughout its chattering electronic clouds. "Slave New Desart" lulls your brain into an unnerving peace with cascading waves of loud atmospherics, when a deep guffaw momentarily pauses the discord.
Remastered by James Plotkin (Old, Khanate) and design by Jonathan Canady (Dead World, Deathpile), Venereology continues to simultaneously fascinate and frighten listeners. Relapse used to issue warnings on Merzbow albums that they would cause damage to high-fidelity playback equipment due to the exceeded volume levels, and this is still true.
Indeed, this was the album that originally gave Merzbow the most exposure in North America, after which he went on to famously collaborate with Boris, Full of Hell, Wolf Eyes, Genesis P-Orridge, K.K. Null and scores of others. At age 62, Akita has nine releases so far in 2019 and shows absolutely no sign of slowing his ultra-prolific output. (Relapse)