Genuine collaboration: that’s one of the things you’ll notice first in this record from Merzbow, Keiji Haino and Balazs Pandi. Merzbow, despite his tendency towards overwhelming his listeners with chaotic swathes of noise in his solo releases, never overwhelms his collaborators on An Untroublesome Defencelessness, which leads to a well-balanced release that shows off the strengths of all three of its creators.
Don’t be fooled by the presence of Balazs Pandi behind the drum-kit into thinking that this is going to be one of those Merzbow collaborations in which his jet-engine screeches are harnessed to a 4/4 rock beat in search of the ultimate rock and roll excess (such as on some of his collaborations with Boris). Pandi very rarely grounds An Untroublesome Defencelessness in a regular beat, instead playing in a fluid and improvisational style where his clattering cymbals and snare rolls complement the jagged shards of noise thrown out by Merzbow’s electronics and Haino’s guitar.
One of the most surprising things, given those involved and the noisy improvisational style of the record, is how relatively non-aggressive An Untroublesome Defencelessness is. Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of playing it to my mother anytime soon, but once you accept and enter the maelstrom of noise you may find it is more a meditative than a confrontational experience. Listening to some Merzbow records such as Venerology I am left with the impression of nothing so much as sharpened metal claws reaching through the speakers and attempting to pull my intestines out through my ears, yet on An Untroublesome Defencelessness the noise-as-meditation rather than noise-as-confrontation approach to listening makes a lot of sense. Towards the end of the first track ‘Why is the courtesy of the prey always confused with the courtesy of the hunters…’ as Pandi eases into a more regular beat and the storm clouds of noise from Merzbow and Haino settle and circle around him, I genuinely found it to be a contemplative listening experience (the track titles would certainly seem to support a zen approach to listening to this record).
This is, of course, not to suggest that An Untroublesome Defencelessness should be shelved with Easy Listening, there are plenty of jolts along the road, most notably from Haino’s contributions with guitar and vocals on the second and final track ‘How differ the instructions of the left from the instructions of the right?’ Haino is a superbly skilled guitarist which you appreciate even more after listening to the third section of this track. It takes a very skilful player to sound like they’ve not only never played a guitar before, but have never even seen anyone else playing one either and are approaching the guitar as if they have very little idea of what one is even for. The atonal and arrhythmic clangs and scrapes are perhaps the most challenging elements of An Untroublesome Defencelessness and certainly give you something for your ears to chew on.
The cover art, a spectrally beautiful mountain-scape with a threateningly red sun rising above it, does an effective job of portraying the balance between the beautiful and the disturbing contained within. It is not all positive: this being experimental music there are some experiments that don’t pay off, most notably Haino’s brief foray into vocals (intoning prophetic-sounding non-sequiturs) on ‘How differ…’ which disrupt the meditative flow of the track without adding anything substantial. That said for the most part An Untroublesome Defencelessness works very well as an exercise in showcasing the talents of each of the three involved. No-one with a passing interest in noise/free-improv will be surprised at all by what Merzbow and Haino bring to the record but for some Pandi might be a revelation. His fast and supple rippling rolls around the kit, although they don’t settle on a predictable rock rhythm, give the whole of An Untroublesome Defenceless a sense of forward momentum, something that Merzbow and Haino build on throughout this excellent collaborative record.
8Pieter J Macmillan's Score