Recorded in 1983 and originally released on audio cassette by the Japanese label ZSF Product, Escape Mask is not your regular Merzbow album. Masami Akita may not have a “typical” sound per se, but if you speak to people about Merzbow, they will think of extreme harsh noise, and perhaps a few ambient albums on the side. As it is now revived by Other Voices on CD and Vinyl, Escape Mask is certainly still noise in a sense, but the sound sources and style equally certainly makes the album an outlier even by Merzbow standards.
Utilizing guitars, tapes, any number of effects, drum machines and at times even vocals and a violin (!), this is one hell of a peculiar journey. It is a great testament to Merzbow’s diverse capabilities that he has managed to construct such an idiosyncratic patchwork of noise, guitar abuse and random tape loops without making it sound nonsensical in a bad way. Large swathes of the bizarre sonic landscape is rhythmic, though the rhythms are constructed in many different ways. Sometimes a straight-up drum machine beat hammers away while guitars, noises and crashing expressions of insanity do their thing, at other times the guitar or some other sound source supplies the “percussion”, while other audio structures serve up the noise. Sometimes, various techniques are combined. Feedback echoes and screams through the room, and even if you can identify several musical instruments almost all throughout the album, the way they are used is different from anything you are likely to have heard very often before.
While Escape Mask is divided into four distinct tracks (“Escape Mask Part I-IV”), the atmosphere and sound type changes without warning even mid track. Clanging distorted noises, repetitive and harsh drones, insane fragments of dialogue and music – Escape Mask is an altogether intense experience. In a way, this is similar to what hundreds of Bandcamp noise artist newcomers are trying to accomplish these days, by creating “crazy” noise and music collages with multifarious elements thrown in and stitched together in whatever audio editor is available for free or easily pirated. However, put this 1983 recording next to any one of those albums, and you will see that talent plays a massive part even when the most unmusical of music genres turns slightly musical.
Blasting away for a little under fifty minutes, Escape Mask may not be your typical Merzbow album. In two ways it is, though: first of all, it is noise after all, no matter how many supposedly conventional musical elements there are. Second of all, it’s fucking awesome. Released in January 2017 by Russian Other Voices Records, the album is luckily still available on CD, vinyl and digital download.