Sometimes, these Overdrive reviews prompt me to go journeying through musical landscapes that I had, consciously or not, previous stayed away from. Since high school, my impression of grindcore has gone from one of baffled confusion, to ignorant distaste, to grudging respect, and now – over the last day and a half – enthusiastic embrace. This new Retortion Terror, sparked this to some degree, along with previous looks into local grind-tinged bands such as Diploid and Maggot Bath, and some cursory listens to genre forebears such as Carcass, AC and Napalm Death. But what really sealed the deal was the previous works of (“legendary) Retortion Terror guitarist Takafumi Masubara, which I went through after realising that my 20th listen to this 6 minute grind EP wasn’t going to give me anything more to write about.
I listened to the previous (debut) Retortion Terror release, a split with Minneapolis deathgrind band Invidiosus, as well as the short discographies of his previous bands Mortalized and GridLink. They were revelations. Up until this point, I had no idea that grind could be progressive, unique, atmospheric or forward-thinking. I thought it had one mode, one dynamic, and one thing to say; that of pure, unadulterated aggression. I had an inkling that some bands had more of a flair for experimentation, but never before had I paid any attention to any convincing examples of what that experimentation might sound like. In the cases of Mortalized and GridLink, they ranged from dabblings in sampling, ambience, wonderfully bizarre production choices, melody, instrumentation – the works. All in the service of what could accurately be described as an atmosphere of “pure aggression,” but… well, it’s gotta stay in the realm of grind somehow. If you’ve never heard of them, check out Mortalized and GridLink.
But this isn’t really that. This EP is about as purely grind as grind gets. It’s grind. All the typical grind trademarks are there: it has the insanely fast tempos, blast beats, technical riffs, and the almost mockingly short song lengths. Feeling that there must be something more to it, I did my best to take note of the “intricacies” that I felt simply must be there, hidden within the cacophony, and I think I found them. There are indeed aspect of Retortion Terror that reward the listener on a slightly deeper level than simply giving them something to bang their head to, mostly in the strangely compelling (although thoroughly dissonant) lead melodies and solos that occasionally catch the ear, perhaps through sheer contrast with the grinding noise that surrounds them. A lot of the riffs themselves are pretty great, and it didn’t take much to justify the description of Matsubara as a “legendary guitarist” – the dude plays with an intensity and talent for catchy dissonance, restrained technicality and pure brutality that I haven’t encountered since I first heard Cryptopsy’s None So Vile, an album that is, in my opinion, probably the height of extreme metal.
But after listening to the progressive experimentation of GridLink and the noisy, primal and varied stylings of Mortalized, it was hard not to be underwhelmed. I’d had a taste of what grindcore could do within its own restraints, and after that it was hard to enjoy Retortion Terror like I had on my first few listens. The EP is passable but, barring the guitar work, there isn’t much to write home about. No hints of stylistic experimentation, no interesting use of meter or dynamics, no real unique qualities at all to score points with. It’s just a grind EP. This mediocrity is only exacerbated by its frustratingly short 6 minute and 17 second run time, which allows it to simply rush by without leaving much of an impression. I’ve loved short releases before (see Vampillia’s brilliant Happiness Brought by Endless Sorrow) and I understand what the purpose it generally means to be, but Retortion Terror isn’t varied enough, and it doesn’t pack enough interesting ideas into its speedy compositions enough for me to want to listen to it again – really, it isn’t even long enough for it to get boring.
In a strange way, Retortion Terror has managed to both confirm and challenge my impression of grind. It isn’t so visceral that it feels like a quick one-two punch to the gut, it’s just a mildly enjoyable extreme metal riff-fest. Yeah. This sure is a grind EP.
Retortion Terror is available HERE