Merzbow is one of those artists I've always let intimidate me. Not because I thought his music was too harsh for me or anything like that, but simply because I had no idea where to start. When an individual artist has put out something like 250 releases (which he has), there's simply a point where you have to throw your hands up and surrender. That is the predicament that I've found myself in, and only recently have I overcome it with some careful research and downloading. After plowing through a few trusted reviews and listening to some tracks, Animal Magnetism magically found its way into my hands and I was presented with 74 minutes of music by an artist I still knew very little about, but was released on a label whose output I was familiar with and mostly trusted.
If you've been following the story of one Masami Akita, you know that it was only recently that he started using computers as another instrument to create his massive walls of noisescapes. He was by no means a luddite before, but since discovering computer has expanded his boundaries even further and continued to pump out release after release. Coming from someone who has had a 50CD box set of his work released (The overwhelming Merzbox), it only makes sense that the endless possibilities a computer holds would seem to be the wet dream of a noise fanatic like Akita.
The release opens with the album-titled track of "Animal Magnetism," and the title stems from his use of sampled chicken noises in the track. Yes, you heard that right, Mr. Noise himself has pet chickens and he sampled their everyday noises for use on the track. As expected, he twists the clucks and honks into something a bit less harmless. The 20-plus minute track builds slowly from subtle scratching waves of sound until the distorted feedback and squeals completely overtake things. Meanwhile, decimated sounds of chicken clucks claw through the shape-shifting static, creating something that is both disturbing and oddly hilarious at the same time. By the end of the track, it resembles a chainsaw, and that continues over into the ironically titled, "Quiet Men," a track that morphs into absolutely shrieking shards of feedback, twisted enough to test the most dedicated listener (and again, it sounds like possessed chickens in the background if you listen closely).
Making more use of rhythm that I've ever heard on a Merzbow track, the shorter middle track of "Super Sheep" pulses along like a candy ravers nightmare, grinding an industrial beat so drenched in feedback that the layers of feedback itself almost creates something melodic (but not quite). "A Prarmigan" starts out with all low end junked-out feedback, but bursts into cascading sheets of higher-end squeals before convulsing during a middle section and finally phasing into a droning sheet of white noise ending. Total time is 22 minutes, and to call it brutal would probably be an understatement.
Of all the tracks on the release, it's the closer of "Pier 39" that does the most for me personally. Single distorted notes ring out with a surprising warmth before being overtaken by a modulating feedback that is in turn sheared off into glitched-out noise. Calling it musical might be a stretch, but it's one of the only tracks on the disc (besides the middle one) that works without resorting to dentist-drill sonics to make a point (although the tracks on this release are definitely more nuanced than some of his utterly heavy-handed older work). After doing the research on Merzbow and listening to several of his releases and this one, I can honestly say that I probably won't explore his work much further. His noisy epics require a fairly high level of tolerance from a listener, and it's one that I simply must not have. It's not that I dislike noise music, as I enjoy pieces of everything from Throbbing Gristle to Kevin Drumm, but it's releases like this (and Hecker's recent Sun Pandamonium) that are actually more physically offputting to me than anything I'd care to listen to. Is it music if it causes such a gut reaction? I'm sure it is, but that doesn't mean it's pleasant to listen to.