Seemingly held in awe by all, I’ve never heard anybody say a bad word about Gridlink. When their third and final album Longhena came out it was instantly declared by all who reviewed it (which was only, and was only ever going to be, a small segment of the music press) as a simultaneously genre–defining and expanding swansong. This was in addition to it being an artistic statement on going out in style, with guitarist Takafumi Matsubara no longer able to play due to nerve damage in his left hand. I gave it a listen, and thought it sounded like nearly every other grind album. Longhena was extreme, and credit due where credit’s due, Gridlink could really play, but a masterpiece that does not make. This was around a year and a half ago, and I remember having a swift and strong reaction to it; consequently, it seems like a good place to start. This’ll be easy, I thought. I hit the nail on the head when I first heard them. Let’s take on this emperor in new clothes, this one trick mule, this overrated ‘masterpiece’, Longhena.
First track Constant Autumn begins with a syncopated, stuttering guitar riff. The chord progression at 1.05 is gripping. A modification of the intro riff enters at 1.22. It ends with violins. The lyrics are about estrangement from a loved one;
I have pictures – of who we once were
That life is over – that time is past.
First track down, five preconceptions of stereotypical grind blown out of the water. I mean, distinctive riffs? Chord progressions? Violins? Next track The Last Raven is a whirlwind of juddering riffs and drumming. Third track Thirst Watcher, centring around pulsing arpeggios and gliding strings, is a sudden introduction of space. I’m beginning to think I might have been wrong, and that somewhere along the way, I’ve confused Gridlink with something or someone else, because this is one of its own bizarre kind.
The vocals are unintelligible, but the lyrics are strikingly poetic, working in dense, multi–sensory imagery, and abounding with references to wounds. Rather than being another grind band obsessed with gore, here physical wounding is equated to the everyday deaths we all go through and submissively endure under catatonic surrender, rather than being drawn from grind’s more traditional themes of death, violent death, violence, war, oppression, political injustice, genocide, more violence, more death. A recurring motif is the use of physical violence as a metaphor for the collapse of a relationship, such as in Chalk Maple;
There’s history in the broken pieces
That are quickly reattached
There’s memories soaked in gasoline that I can’t forget.
I’m not sure how clean vocals would work with this kind of music, but in a way it’s a shame that lyrics of this quality are totally incomprehensible, the timbre of the screaming generally varying between ‘I am in pain’ and ‘I am demented’ (let’s not confuse the two, now). For example, alongside lacerating riffs, this is a segment of the lyrics in Taibas :
The annual reopening of wounds
Of a heart poured into the desert
And its address book of ghosts.
In the pursuit of being extreme for the sake of being extreme, a lot of grind ends up nullifying itself. If it’s all blinding anger, then there’s no insight. Gridlink possess range and go for something deeper than this. However, this album is something deeper than just a blast of noise or energy – and it’s weirder than that too. It helps that that guitarist Matsubara, bass guitarist Teddy Patterson and drummer Bryan Fajardo are technically proficient cats who grind head and shoulders above the pack, and although Matsubara can shred, and does so with lots of screeching, raw lines, he’s able to do so with a well–balanced beauty:beast ratio. In particular, title track Longhena has a great, jarring chord progression, and closing number Look To The Windward opens with a hell of a riff, with a violin at end accompanying the lines
Cross that bridge
Look to windward
Go on alone.
I’ll usually put on a grind album with the intention of it being a blast of energy, and although ‘beautiful’ would be an overstatement, for grind, this is, well, kinda sensitive to just be that. Grind doesn’t tend to inspire reflection, firstly because it tends to be so short–lived, and secondly because it’s unintelligible. There were moments where I just didn’t know if there was anything for me to say, such as the 29 second–long Wartime Exception Law 205, which was over before I could think of anything insightful, let alone write anything down. Longhena does inspire reflection, even before understanding (well, reading) the lyrics. It’s catchy, well–written, and dare I say it, musical.
I’m not sure now why I didn’t like Longhena when I first heard it; I really must have confused it with another piece of music. Seeing how vocalist Jon Chang is also in Discordant Axis, who I didn’t understand either, maybe that’s where the wires were crossed. I can see why nobody had a bad word for Longhena; it is really is genre–defining and expanding. Music Valhalla awaits it.