Some 100 hundred miles to the southeast of Saint Vitus, metalheads gathered on the evening of February 11th in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to soak in Subterranean Dissonance Festival, a day-long celebration of envelope-pushing extreme metal conspicuously featuring some of New York’s finest acts. Meanwhile back in Greenpoint a separate wing of Northeastern heavy music appreciators packed Saint Vitus to gills to enjoy the consonant grindcore of Gridlink.

Opportunities to see Gridlink live and in the flesh do not come around often. Saturday night's performance was the first time the group, currently composed of singer Jon Chang, guitarist Takafumi Matsubara (joined for the night by Rory Kobzina), bassist Mauro Cordoba, and drummer Bryan Fajardo, hit the stage in a decade. This once in a blue moon show served a dual purpose for Gridlink; celebrating the old and heralding the new. With a new album freshly in the can, the band performed their previous record, 2014's Longhena, in its 21 minute entirety to a sold out crowd.

A fully staged Longhena by itself, even without the band’s protracted absence, more than justified the rush on tickets. The record is a landmark achievement, expanding Gridlink's blistering fast and tuneful take on grindcore to cinematic proportions. Not a second on the album whizzes past without a fresh hook from Matsubara. Each song, no matter how brief, teems with detail, wrapping Chang's piercing shriek in a cocoon of melody. Encased in this dense webbing, Chang’s lyrics braid together sci-fi violence, often lifted from similarly obscure and challenging video games, and hard-boiled poetics like William Gibson in miniature. Longhena's appeal is specific even within the insular world of grind.

One element of that specificity is the intermittent appearance of violin, courtesy of Pittsburgh's Joey Molinaro. In effort to replicate the album in full, Gridlink brought Molinaro along to play violin for the album’s breather track "Thirst Watcher." Molinaro also opened the night, performing solo with a heavily distorted violin and a foot pedal for digital double kicks. Molinaro used this unconventional pair of instruments to approximate the rumble and rage of a full band, tearing through riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on a downtuned electric guitar. Still, the set’s best moments came when Moinaro leaned into the violin's idiomatic particulars, screeching and sliding from one chord to another or trilling up a storm of harmonics in conjunction with his polyphonic octave generator.

Grind contains multitudes. Following this abstract take on the genre, Philadelphia's Bandit provided the crowd with something a little more meat & potatoes. Emphasis on the meat. Spurred on by shouts of "Go Birds" between songs, Bandit mixed their lightning quick blasts with breakdowns that forcibly magnetized knuckles to the floor. "We play nü-metal now!" joked singer Gene Meyer after one mid-tempo tune, clearly relishing how starkly his Buffalo Wild Wings normie-ness clashed with the crusty grinders in attendance. Just as the self-aware jock shtick was starting to get old, Meyer switched to sincerity and dedicated the set to Jon Chang, who hung back near the soundboard for much of the show. "Your music has helped me through some dark times," Meyer said to a chorus of cheers, evidently not the only person in the room that could attest this way.

Gridlink draw in a unique cross-section of fans. By my eyes the crowd was divided roughly between older diehards, grizzled enough to have potentially seen Chang's old band Discordance Axis instead of just reading about them, and younger, dorkier fans likely drawn in by Chang’s nerd-friendly points of reference. Look, the fact of the matter is that Gridlink have an undeniable appeal for dudes who get down with Weird Asian Stuff. I admired one atteendee's Trigun-esque red leather jacket and bleached anime-blond hair. When someone tried to break up one of the countless "E-A-G-L-E-S" chants between bands with an "E-VAN-GELION" chant, I shook my head, not out of pity but recognition. I too, decked out as I was that night in a Wormrot shirt and a Buzz Ricksons' jacket, am a dude who loves Weird Asian Stuff. I love Weird Asian Stuff enough to know that the Evangelion chanter and Eagles fans could at least, after this weekend, bond over a bewildering ending to an anticipated finale.

All of this is to say that I loved Chepang's set. The Nepalese quintet are exactly the kind of brain-bender that you’d hope to find when scouring the world for fresh perspectives on your extreme genre of choice. Instead of settling for two guitars and a bass, Chepang rounded out their lineup with a saxophone and a table of noise-making synths. Though they barreled through their set at the same relentless pace as Bandit before them, Chepang's unique instrumentation added a psychedelic edge to their set. Time dilated in the other direction. Speed rendered itself into stillness, the roar of amplifiers suddenly palling in comparison to the blare of the saxophone, like some ancient war trumpet, booming out over the audience. I’d never heard anything quite like it, and I can’t wait to hear it again.

No matter how exciting the openers, the air in the room changed once it was time for Gridlink. The crowd lost their cool twice before the band played a single song, first cheering on Takafumi Matsubara while he warmed up with classic hair metal licks and mugged for the front row, second when Chang wordlessly took center stage. Appropriate for a band dedicated to brevity, Gridlink wasted no time on formalities. Before reaching Longhena the band burned through a grab bag of tracks from their debut record Amber Gray. Removed from the original track order and bouncing off the boxed walls of Saint Vitus (all due respect and love to the sound crew, who make the most of their unenviable task of nightly bending chaos into order), the songs blurred together in a way that only true obsessives could untangle. Even without recognizable landmarks the old Gridlink magic whipped the crowd into a fury, Chang's voice still just as piercing among the laser-precise din. By the time Matsubara and Kobzina locked in for the start-stop opening of "Constant Autumn," the crowd were eating out of their hands.

That hard-earned good will came in handy. Though the first half of Longhena was just as triumphant in person as fans could hope for, ("Stay Without Me" in particular proved to be an anthem in a live setting), Gridlink did not make it through the night without a few hitches. As the set neared the end, the band had to stop dead in their tracks to coach Bryan Fajardo through the openings of two different songs. This could have killed the vibe, and to be sure Chang and Kobzina both let frustration show on their faces during these unexpected breaks (Matsubara on the other hand was content to noodle through more shredder licks in the corner, utterly unbothered), but if the crowd was even the least bit impatient they kept it to themselves. Once reminded Fajardo blew through the remaining tracks flawlessly, but those brief moments of uncertainty stuck with me. What is it that drives us to pack shoulder to shoulder in a dimly lit room to watch a long-defunct band perform an album front-to-back? Are we there for total fidelity, to hear the past brought to life note-for-note, as perfect unto itself as the records we have at home? Or are we there for signs of actual life, to see our favorite musicians as real humans with all of their necessary imperfections? I opt for the latter. Perfection is impossible, far better to watch flawed individuals build harmony, consonance, out of their flaws.

Now, bring on Coronet Juniper.


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