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Gridlink – Longhena

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Whoever wrote the blurbs on Hydra Head CDs should win a Nobel Prize in Metal, or at least should have earned a larger percentage of album sales than they probably did. One such synopsis came on a sticker adhered to Gridlink’s 2008 debut Amber Gray:

“Twitch grind core. One take. No scratch tracks. No punching in. No slow shit. Fuck you.”

If I hadn’t already been spinning the digital copy I downloaded from some now-extinct grind blog, the above description would’ve compelled me to nab the disc sight unseen and sound unheard. (Yes, I bought it anyway. Dat glossy packaging.) Much like the record itself, the quoted recommendation is short on BS and long on substance. It is also confrontational, which is very unlike Gridlink’s take on grind.

Contrary to most acts in the genre, Gridlink somehow write music that is both aggressive and gloriously positive-sounding, joyful even. Their entire catalog (all 50 or so minutes of it) is this way, from Amber Gray and Orphan up to their latest and last, Longhena. At 23 minutes, Longhena is twice as long as either of its two predecessors, but that just means more details to unravel after your brain adjusts itself to the furious pace. Aside from opener “Constant Autumn”’s bouncy Melt Banana riff and ambient guitar and string respite “Thirst Watcher,” any attempt to make sense of what’s going on during the first few spins is like sitting at the finish line of a Formula 1 race and trying to read the sponsors on the cars as they zoom by.

Like the previous two Gridlink entries, Longhena is built for repeated, looped plays. I achieved this in perhaps the most appropriately geeky way: by spinning it for more than two hours while braving Mushihimesama Futari’s manic, insectoid bullet hell. (Yes, Jon, I’m a shmupper. And yes, I’d love to see your high score. Get at me!) As horde after horde of vile beetles and deadly preying mantises fell to Reco’s vengeful spreadshot, Longhena began to reveal its idiosyncrasies.

Diehard space shooter vets often discuss “The Zone”: the Zen-like state of mind required to dodge a screenful of fluorescent orbs while laying waste to the enemies spawning them. Gridlink ascend to this higher plane somewhere around guitarist Takafumi Matsubara’s jangly, surf rock chorus on “Taibas.” As on previous Gridlink LPs and related Hayaino Daisuke, dude is a freight train of wanton grind destruction. On “Black Prairie,” he zips from blip-bloop tremolo to throaty chugga chuggas. “Island Sun” shows him taking advantage of the album’s longer track lengths to stretch his fingers after a scorching ascending intro, letting it all hang out with an open chord breakdown as catchy as anything any DC hardcore band ever laid to tape.

Longhena’s last three tracks are as vicious a volley as genre fanatics could ask for, the band flitting from “Ketsui”’s triumphant palm muted hook to Bryan Fajardo’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em drum fills on the title track before the big one, “Look to Windward.” This is it, boys and girls, Gridlink’s last gasp; an epic three-minute blastathon punctuated by a hummable, up and down scale-as-chorus. After a stop-start midsection, Chang hits his final upper registers as a grindcore vocalist while strings bleed in to punctuate a terse, stellar discography, leaving a few seconds to mourn before Matsubara’s palm-muted ebullience signals another loop. Now to hit Play-Asia for a region free copy of DoDonPachi Saidaioujou

Read our interview with Gridlink vocalist Jon Chang here.

— Greg Majewski

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