07 September, 2012

30 Reviews In 30 Days: Review #7

Zeni Geva, Vast Impotentz (Cassette) (Nux Organisation, 1986)

Vast Impotentz is Zeni Geva's first release: a live cassette-only recording made in 1986. It shows Zeni Geva at a somewhat embryonic stage, but their music was already intensely satisfying.

For starters, the lineup on this album is different than on any other Zeni Geva release. Notably, the band had a bassist at this time, Bunsho Nishikawa; his pummeling bass work adds a dimension of grinding heaviness to their sound that they later basically replaced with Null's viciously heavy guitar tone. Mitsuru Tabata hadn't even joined the band yet, and another guitarist named Fumiyoshi Suzuki is there in the spot he'd later fill. Ikuo Taketani was still drumming, and would later drum on half of what many people see as Zeni Geva's proper debut (or, at least, their first widely distributed record), Maximum Money Monster.

At this time, the band hadn't quite forged what would become the signature Zeni Geva sound in the '90's: an unbelievably intense hybrid of progressive rock, hardcore, the Japanese "junk-rock" scene of the mid-'80's, and metal that makes all but a very few "heavy" bands seem like wimps. Instead, the band's often unmentioned debt to Swans is made clear in a collection of ultra-repetitive, brutally violent songs - many of the tracks even feature the same kind of disturbing, cracking percussion hits that characterized Swans' early '80's records. Even at this stage, however, Zeni Geva was already mixing that kind of sonic violence with recognizable - and furious - riffage. Some songs would later end up on Maximum Money Monster, redone in the two-guitar/drums lineup that soon became standard for Zeni Geva, though due to diffuse, strangely airy production, those songs sometimes didn't sound quite as heavy as the versions here. The recording is bootleg quality, but every instrument still comes through about as clear as it possibly could under the circumstances.

The highlight of the set is the version of "War Pig" that comes after the opening number, an extremely different version of "I Want You" that is nothing but Null chanting the title over a warped recording of Albinoni's Adagio in G minor. The main guitar riff is transferred to bass in this version, and the utter beating Nishikawa gives his instrument is truly incredible - the groove he achieves with Taketani could level small villages. It makes the later version on Maximum Money Monster sound thin, nearly anemic, in comparison. "Slam King" may not be quite as extreme as the more well known Maximum Money Monster version, but is given a deeply satisfying performance all the same; Null's possessed roaring was clearly in evidence from the beginning. "Dead Car/Sun Crash" is another hugely repetitive number, but the riff is a good one, and I'm sort of surprised it wasn't re-recorded later on.

Side B is taken up by a horrific half-hour exploration of feedback, inchoate howling, and pulverizing impact: "Godkill/Killsonic." "Killsonic," the second song, is really just an extended free noise freak-out, and while it's an extremely good free noise freak-out, it does sort of get to be a bit much after a while. The thing with free noise freak-outs, even if they are really incredible and sound completely destructive, is that they can kind of lose the listener if they go on long enough, and this one certainly does. I'm sure it was mind-blowing to actually watch it happening, but on tape it eventually just goes on too long. But "Godkill," the first song, is one of the best Swans tributes I've ever heard: Taketani plays a super-slow, crushing beat alone for two minutes. It's so loud he distorts the PA every time he hits his deeper toms. After two minutes of this percussion hammering, the entire band comes in and proceeds to do one thing for the next 10+ minutes: they smash one vicious, distortion-fried power chord and slide up to the exact same tortured frequency, again and again and again. It reminds me of "Thug," the last song on Swans' Cop; but this is, if anything, even heavier than that song was. Topped off with Null's indescribably murderous scream, the effect is almost heavenly for anyone deeply into this kind of stuff. Vast Impotentz is a great snapshot of a really, really good band just starting out, which is sort of incredible to consider, considering how great this recording is. While I can't really say that listeners new to Zeni Geva should start off with it (Desire For Agony is the best starting point), any fan of the band should dive right in with no problems.

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