rinking the blood of Jesus; drinking it right from his veins,” screeched Ministry’s Al Jourgensen over buzz saw riffs that looked towards the axe-work of Marduk’s Morgan Håkansson, thus marking the exodus from The Land of Rape and Honey in great haste. Critics cried crossover; Psalm 69’s precursor, A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, did little to foreshadow the penumbral wrath wrought by Psalm: Jourgensen and Barker collaged quotations—a mélange of political rhetoric and horror film dialogue—with crushing rhythms and thrash guitar. Pens sat staid with perplex; without the convenience that defined genres afford, paragraphs were proffered apoplectically. Ultimately, everyone agreed to agree: Ministry was “Death Metal;” or something like that.
Psalm bore all the markings: Cover art showed a cherub consumed by ephemeral images, celled in scratched celluloid; lyrics were chewed and spat; guitars gouged with clunky charcoal marks; white noise freed the sonic sky of its noir cumuli. Titles titillated; but failed to terrify. Can topics talked to moribund length by the McLaughlin Group stand as tokens of Death Metal diction?—New World Order?—Songs about consumer malaise and rampant immorality? Maybe if there were a touchstone; maybe if Mayhem had waxed philosophical on Marcuse; if Hellhammer had spoken of Horkheimer.
But they didn’t, and neither did Ministry. Jourgensen’s lyrics were admittedly inspired more by Brokaw than Baphomet, but they never shook free of their gothy smocks. Their attire addled reviewers, who merely decided to stamp it “rocker” rather than ruminate. Yet, by the time Kevin Drumm channeled the Windy City’s crusty electronic current into Sheer Hellish Miasma’s malevolent breath, critics were ready. They were practically waiting for this shit. Cover “art” consisting of gothic initials on a black background—along with the album’s coruscating title—was like the Goat of Mendes himself nipping at their ass cheeks. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck; it’s a duck, right? Well, not necessarily. Miasma’s Fucking A Brilliance aside, Drumm readily admits to worshipping Dio, not the Devil.
Fold this faux pas in with Village Voice “metal” opine via George Smith, and it’s almost time for Urban Outfitters to offer up a “retro ringer BLACK EFFIN’ METAL tee” just in time for summer’s end. The Voice has gotten real friendly with metal lately, smelling fashion’s territorial pissings even before they’ve truly chosen to spill urea on their print hydrant. Smith, too concerned with dry humping Bangs’ bone dust to come up with anything vaguely smacking of originality, put forth a whole slew of misinformed meanderings—the kind of swill that might bubble forth if Ken Burns decided to try his hand at encapsulating Grunge in a PBS friendly format. Thankfully, some writers actually get intimate with the subject matter before they close the deal; the Wire’s David Keenan is certainly one of those writers; his (early) take on Hototogisu was about as breathless as it deserved to be: Hototogisu’s Ghosts from the Sun put the East’s ukiyo-e pictures inside a tonal vase and tossed them into a sea of tempestuous sonics; if anyone could find the beached vase, and crack the pictographs, it would be Keenan.
“This is the kind of out-of-nowhere recording that leaves whole new genres struggling for birth in its wake,” said Keenan of Ghosts. His review took Hototogisu’s latest Rorschach, and found the vertebrae from Cale’s minimalism and Morley’s Dead C that, when figured into its common spine, bound such disparate notions as Videodrome’s flesh/metal fetishism and Angus Maclise’s psychotropic ghost dances.
If anything, the ghost is still dancing with Hototogisu’s latest, Green, released in an edition of 1000 by Eclipse. Sounding more like Bower’s latest Skullflower installment Orange Canyon Mind, and less like the Bassett-less Floating Japanese Oof!, Green runs ret hot needles into the roof of the world; what bleeds from these perforations is a yawning, lysergic sludge. Like Floating, all the tracks easily run into one another; even though the sound ensues with the industrial drum programming of “Hellbore,” circular drones quickly fill the conversation, talking over any errant mention of the Revolting Cocks. Take note: Gone is Floating’s friendly face. As soon as “Hellbore” slides into “Crimson Streams” the endless whistle of a tea kettle informs one that its taker won’t be deciding on two lumps or three; they’ve been reduced to casualty one in this slasher film’s audio equivalent.
When the body’s found, the killer’s found, too. What’s left to do but “Run into the Woods,” the logical step from “Crimson Streams.” Electronic ululations stand tall as trees, and slip like wet boots on dewy moss. Ears have trouble standing when the brain believes there to be no foundation. Arms swat and scratch out a path, which is readily needed when cords of feedback hang like so many vines, occluding any semblance of passage. The hectic pace is maintained over the course of the disc, with Hototogisu’s nod to Dante’s Wood of Suicides—“Crucified Forest”—nailing groaning Ebow’d drip onto a shifting canvas anchored briefly by ceremonial flute that floats in and out of the mix as an Escher drawing’s tension fools the eyes into deciding on its subject. The penultimate track is Hototogisu’s leitmotif, “Heavy Blossom,” which is essentially the musical equivalent of Pinhead’s declaration, “We have such sights to show you.”
Bower & Bassett contribute so selflessly that it’s nearly impossible to determine individual offerings. If anything, Green sounds more like the duo discussing favorite musics: There’s the electronic work of Xenakis; Monks of Gyuto; Dead C. It’s not that these sounds are set forth—quoted or aped; they’re rather assimilated, as the early Scandinavians ate the hearts of wolves fresh from their chests to take on their attributes. These sounds are worn, donned as Leatherface masked himself in the skins of his victims. For all the wielding and carving, it’s frankly daft to think of this as “ambient.” If Hototogisu offers atmosphere, it’s a take on the butcher’s floor before cleanup, where feet mingle with gristle, bone and blood—all in voluminous amount.
As Green is intense as early Burzum, and as dense as a battalion of Asian noise terrorists, the unspoken promise for the avant-garde to overtake Metal’s softening brand of confrontation is made good. Jourgensen meddled with Metal in 1992; Drumm dressed it in eternally combusting cacophony and likened it to vapors south of Heaven; Hototogisu take it one step farther. By clipping Metal of its now clichéd characteristics, its essence is readily available. And while the duck is quacking, its cry sounds more like “Long Live the New Flesh.” Whether anyone recognizes this to be the case honestly matters little. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2005-07-12