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Zeni Geva Steve Albini - Maximum Implosion

Once again Cold Spring dig into the vaults of Japanese music this time compiling the collaborative works of Zeni Geva and Steve Albini. This isn't the first Zeni Geva release to appear on Cold Spring. A few years back they released Maximum Money Monster originally released as Maximum Love and Fuck in Japan and expanded on the European version at the behest of Kevin Martin (God/The Bug) who released it on his Pathological label, reissued by Cold Spring with some extra live tracks. It's well worth seeking out if Zeni Geva mean anything to you.

Zeni Geva, at the time featured Eito and former Boredoms guitarist and Leningrad Blues Machine founder Tabata. They struck up a relationship with Steve Albini around 1991 when they toured the USA and he recorded and engineered their Total Castration album at his Basement Studios in Chicago. Maximum Implosion compiles the subsequent Nai-Ha album, together with the extra tracks featuring Steve Albini (vocals and guitar) that appeared on the US edition released by Skin Graft Records. Maximum Implosion also includes the live Zeni Geva and Steve Albini album, All Right, You Little Bastards! It's fair to say it's an essential release for those already wise to the early work of Zeni Geva who missed any of those releases first time around.

Zeni Geva's explosive and physical sound drew comparisons with everything from punk, hardcore, death metal, sludge metal and so on. Categories, genres... whatever it was they were doing it was a progressive and intelligent form of noise rock that pounded and pummelled. At the time it certainly fit with the likes of Swans, Skulllflower, Big Black and the harsher end of the American alt-rock thing with the Melvins and Sonic Youth. Just listen to the opening track 'Autobody' that lifts off from a cascade of powerful drum rolls into scorching near metal riffing enlivened further by Null's energetic yelps. That frenetic gush of noise only lasts a minute and a half before it sinks into atmospheric improvisations with muted utterings. The full assault of this powerhouse trio comprising Kazuyuki K. Null (guitar, vocals), Tabata Mara (guitars) and Eito (drums) comes in the form of 'Shirushi' and 'Intercourse'. Sludgey like early Swans, Null unleashes coruscating howls over the guitar drone and pummelling beats of 'Shirushi' before it unleashes slithery guitar riffing and wayward guitar histrionics. 'Intercourse', naturally for some is brief, and Null's title shouting rasps cast against the speedy heavy rock riffs are are over in less than two and a half minutes. Job done. 'Nai-Ha', the title track of the original release, is another good moment. Starting with those long sludgey moments propelled by powerhouse rhythms and KK Null's throat shredding howls, imagine Laibach doing death metal, it is eventually catapulted into soaring fast paced riffing, absorbing elements of the guitar moodscapes of his solo work and collaborations of the time, ending on abrupt riffs accompanied by the shouty title refrains.

More than their other albums Nai-Ha is more versatile and features more dynamics than the others. 'Terminal Hz', the closing track, bustles to thunderous industrial pummelling overlayen with high end skree and the distant drone of guitars sounding like a squadron of fighter planes. Taken out of context I really doubt anyone would guess this is Zeni Geva. 'Angel' shows an altogether different side to Zeni Geva where ringing and chiming guitars couch the low, spoken vocals of Null. Co-written and featuring Steve Albini on guitar, it's more than apparent in its stop-start song structure but those passages of where they let loose in near metal riffing are clearly Zeni Geva though.

There's more Steve Albini on the extra tracks taken from Superunit, the title given to the additional tracks of a 12-inch that accompanied the US release of Nai-Ha by Skin Graft. We're clearly in Shellac territory on 'Kettle Lake' (in fact, the tune became the basis for Shellac's 'The Guy Who Invented Fire') with Albini on guitar and vocal; his low drawl draped over a more studied rock sound. That said the drums are far more varied and "rock" than the minimal rhythms that accompany Shellac, as are the searing and frequency inspired guitars that straddle the more frenetic passages. Albini's on vocals on 'Painwise' too where shimmering frequency guitars give way to passages of audio improvisations of percussive clatter, between the stop-start structure, which like the other track from the Superunit session additionally feature bass duties from Mas P.

The second disc, originally released by the American label Nipp Guitar, as All Right, You Little Bastards! provides the full on assault of this power trio captured live in two performances from Tokyo and Osaka in 1992, aided and abbeted by Steve Albini. The effect is physical and massive from a group undoubtedly aware of Japanoise, but they don't fall into the more extreme noise territory associated with the likes of Hanatarash, Masonna and Solmania. Zeni Geva pick up on the monolithic slabs of Swans but here they're sped up channelled through destructive metal riffing, driving and thunderous drums and high end skree backing the guttural, frenzied proclamations of Null delivered in short ferocious bursts.

From the powerful thrashing of 'I Want You' and 'Guystick Bodie' and scorched earth riffing of 'Autobody' to the rhythmic onslaught and slow motion sludge of 'New Flesh' there's little let-up. Did I mention they were heavy? It's hardly surprising one of their track titles is 'Godflesh' - another pulverising industrialised unit informed by punk and metal influence. And yet despite its heaviness there's no bassist here for the majority of the tracks. Instead tracks lurch and deviate into atmospheric guitar mannerisms and mangled guitar abuse before returning to the ultra-heavy onslaught.

Most of the set culled from two shows is taken from Total Castration, with selections from Nai-Ha and Maximum Money Monster. A harsher take on the instrumental 'Angel' co-written with Steve Albini leads into the first of his appearances here on the live rendition of the two tracks recorded for the Superunit sessions, where they are joined by Mas P on bass. Things slow down here as they wrestle with post-rock structures wrapping Albini's spoken and wiry tones around passages of amped-up guitar screech and abuse and his own more measured guitar lines on 'Kettle Lake'. Low end bass notes back the high end skree of this more powerful rendering of 'Painwise' this time featuring the shredded growl of Null before disintegrating into a chaotic mass of howls, feedback and noise. The Tokyo tracks are a blast.

The Osaka show excerpts largely focus on Total Castration with Null's voice reduced to throaty yelps as it hurtles through the pummelling passages and elongated atmospheric guitar of the title track, while 'Bigman Death' piles on pressure unfurling monolithic layers. The Osaka show is most noteworthy for their thrashy wired up version of Big Black's take on Kraftwerk's 'The Model' with Albini almost struggling to fit his vocal lines into the intricate guitar lines mired in a morass of guitar noise. Albini reappears at the end of 'I Hate You' a chaotic concoction of high end squall and powerhouse rhythms providing a backdrop to Null's exasperated repeated howls of the title plunging into trails of feedback laced disarray with Albini verbally assaulting the audience with the title of the original album, All Right, You Little Bastards!

I've got a bunch of Zeni Geva records including the live album but missed Nai-Ha, and it's been fun reacquainting myself with their earlier work. Steve Albini continued to work with Zeni Geva but I don't think the results were ever as powerful or as ground breaking as their earlier albums. Steve Albini went onto form Shellac, while Zeni Geva morphed into several variations, and eventually did a split tour with Godflesh when both bands reconvened. All the same this is a great archive release of progressive noise rock from Zeni Geva and Steve Albini. Maximum Implosion indeed. For more information go to Cold Spring