REVIEW: Acid Mothers Temple: Electric Heavyland
Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O: Electric Heavyland [Alien8, 2002] (mp3 excerpt)
Three words? Japanese guitar banshees
You know those warning cards that come with headphones? The ones that say something along the lines of, "Warning: prolonged exposure to excessive noise can result in permanent loss of hearing?" Those things exist because of albums like Electric Heavyland. The latest release from everyone's favourite psych-monsters, Acid Mothers Temple, offers up a relentless barrage of sonic violence for your pleasure and edification. Gone are the relatively-soothing sounds of the band's version of Terry Riley's cyclical composition, In C; the lulling, folk inflected drones which were interwoven throughout New Geocentric World of Acid Mothers Temple are nowhere to be found. This time around, the Osaka-based group, led by guitar fiend Kawabata Makoto, are here to rock, and rock they do, with the sort of primal ferocity most often associated with heavy seismic activity.
The album is broken up into three long tracks, none of which run under 15 minutes. The first and shortest cut is actually made up of two songs: the blistering "Atomic Rotary Grinding God" and the, uh, equally blistering "Quicksilver Machine Head." Thanks to their wealth of experience in the field of psych madness, AMT know how to start the party off right. The record begins with the heavily processed vocals of Cotton Casino wavering over an unsettling synth wash, setting a menacing tone and creating in the listener a feeling of nervous anticipation akin to that which must be experienced by trapped animals: an awareness that something big, bad, and unknown is on its way. Any uncertainty about the nature of this beast is quickly obliterated as a shrill blast of guitar feedback cuts through the horror movie soundtrack ambience. The thing screams for a second, then Tsuyama Atsushi's monster bass careens in, the bottom drops out, and all hell breaks loose. Kawabata's guitar leads the charge, screeching and skittering back and forth with hideous insect life. Buried underneath the massive wall of guitar scree, the discerning listener will note Cotton and Higashi Hiroshi's synthesizers, which sound like they've caught fire and are quietly calling out for help as they melt. The whole thing is propelled along at a breakneck pace by Tsuyama's reeling bass and the ferocious drumming of Koizumi Hajime. Things slow down for a minute, giving the group a chance to state their aims in a slightly more intelligible manner, and then the sucker takes off again, flying along at faster and faster speeds until it crashes headlong into another breakdown just past the five minute mark. After eight searing minutes, the tune ends as it began - Cotton's echoing voice and the unsettling synthesizers.
Kawabata and the gang will probably hate me for saying this (I'm told that they're not altogether enamoured of electronic music), but in some ways, the structure of "Atomic Rotary Grinding God" is similar to the techstep form of drum and bass: notably, releases by Ed Rush & Optical and Bad Company. The basic structures - an 8-minute tune which begins with a creepy, atmospheric introduction, followed by the entrance of a massive bass line and huge, driving drums, then progresses through minorly less agressive breakdowns and terminates with a return to the ambient sounds of the intro - are roughly comparable. The results, however, couldn't be more disparate - where techstep is characterized by cold, mechanical aggression, AMT's violence is alive, feral, and rapidly mutating.
The rest of the album continues in much the same vein as the first tune, never once letting up on the heaviness. "Quicksilver Machine Head" revolves around one gigantic riff, which the band orbit and use to rocket themselves through space like Tom Hanks did with the moon in Apollo 13. "Loved and Confused" begins as a muddy stomper, and gets its drive from what sounds to me like a guitar line cribbed from Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary" and drum triplets reminiscent of the instrumental section of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man." The album closes out with "Phantom of Galactic Magnum," an eighteen-minute mother (sorry, had to) that starts out with drones and stereo-panned rushes of sound and gradually builds in tension until Kawabata's guitar, which can be heard in the background up to this point, explodes through, blowing the whole thing to bits and pulling the band along into a wild meltdown that grows beyond all reasonable limits, eventually evolving into an impenetrable squall of noise. Throughout its fifty minute duration, everyone involved with this record spits fire all over it like Godzilla on a bad Monday.
It is for this very reason that, no matter how tempting it might be, I can't recommend this record to everyone in good conscience. Electric Heavyland resides very definitely in the noisier side of the tracks that run through noise rock town, and thus could easily prove to be a difficult and unpleasant experience for those whose listening preferences tend to lean towards more melodic and structurally-sound fare. Particularly challenging is the density of the record; like My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, the mix is so thick that everything blurs together and it becomes nigh-impossible to discern individual instruments. However, Electric Heavyland is a far cry from Loveless' weird, organic beauty; AMT's brand of noise is a viscous, black wall of musical sludge. That said, it's some of the best-sounding sludge that you're likely to hear all year. With this release, Acid Mothers Temple have proved their mastery of the psych rock freakout form. For anyone with even a passing interest in noise, and a willingness to experience loud and bizarre sound, this album comes highly recommended. Just remember to keep your headphones at a safe level, because, to quote from the manual that came with my CD player, "we want you listening for a lifetime."