Merzbow’s noise output has certainly lessened in the past couple of years, especially after his 13-volume birds set that featured far too much drums, but this split with Actuary on Obfuscated Records and Love Earth Music shows he has clearly learned what his fans want to hear from him. You know what to expect from the Merz; Actuary is a group of five who play any number of different genres within noise, many of which can be heard on Freak Hallucinations. The pairing is interesting, because Merzbow offers up one long harsh noise track while Actuary divide their half into three tracks with three different avenues into noise.
The first side is Merzbow’s long-running “Sugamo Flower Festival,” which starts out with a repetitive whirring and looping static and ends with it as well. Over the course of the 20-minute runtime, Merzbow hits a lot of different sounds – there aren’t any drums, but the noise itself has a lot of bassy percussive elements. There are moments where it sounds like the track incorporates vocal samples; there’s a completely destroyed electronic synth effect that runs up and down the scale seemingly at random; a bit further into “Sugamo Flower Festival” comes a mid-pitched alarum tone that stays with the track for most of the way. There are a ton of effects in this track as per the Merzbow motive, but this release sticks out for me as a return to basics. Merzbow has thrown out the trappings of his previous output – and in the 13 Japanese Birds set, you pretty much knew what you were going to get every time – for harsher and more dynamic sounds, ones that pair electronic with analog or found sounds.
The Actuary side is split into three tracks, the last one being the longest. The first one, “Only Ghosts Hate New Things,” is a drone with synth stings and manipulated background vocals – there’s one deep, reduced speed sample, along with a couple that sound like kids playing or laughing. It’s a creepy track that utilizes very thin strands of static to its benefit. “Inhuman Bondage” follows the same idea with slow, trickling drone lines, and this one incorporates feedback wails repeatedly while the drones shimmer. The longest track, “Ritual Embrace,” finishes the record with an excellent power electronics-esque track, complete with a looping pattern that’s paired with a lot of different textures as well as the first sign of vocals from Actuary. It’s definitely the best offering on this record from the group, and it is an effective summation of the other tracks.
Both artists offer up a great side of vinyl; Merzbow finds himself back in form, while Actuary’s blend of droning harsh noise is both effective and nuanced. A recommended split for anyone who likes Merzbow, but also a well-rounded record overall.