The second album by the trio of Keiji Haino, Oren Ambarchi and Stephen O’Malley, The most painful time happens only once has it arrived already..? (Editions Mego) is an intense blast of igneous free rock, and much more immediate and propulsive than their first. It comprises four tracks recorded live at CBSO, Birmingham, UK, on 9 July 2013, and subsequently edited by Ambarchi and O’Malley. Ambarchi also had a hand in the mixing. The calligraphy that adorns the sleeve is by Keiji Haino, who also contributes typically long-form titles.
The first piece (“you should look closely / those shattered spells / never attaining embodiment as prayer / they are born here again”) practically rears up in a sustained howl of feedback and chant-like, incantatory vocals by Haino. Ambarchi’s percussion is instantly pummelling and repetitious, with O’Malley’s bass a busy subterranean rumble and Haino’s guitar, initially lacerative, later planar, feedbacking into blanketing, wind-tunnel sound.
The rhythmic impetus is relentless, not dissimilar to Ambarchi’s music with Richard Pinhas on Tikkun only more tribal; relentless, that is, until a subtle tamping down of the rhythm allows Haino to play in beautiful, airy abstractions while O’Malley sifts through a gritty sediment of distortion. Meanwhile Ambarchi’s rhythm never slackens. The dual guitars add layer on layer, and the tumult gradually increases, becoming a babel of stratified sound as the trio move toward a climax crested by soaring, solo electric guitar. The ensuing silence has an almost physical dimension.
“will not follow / your hoax called history” fades in, seemingly set to ride a similarly impulsive tribal beat, but it quickly draws back, yielding a sense of stasis and foregrounding a yearning Haino vocal.
At first Haino’s periodically chiming guitar echoes O’Malleys bass daubs, but as that bass line increasingly evokes dubbed-out Black Sabbath, so Haino barbs and applies saturation reverb to his sound. Ambarchi simply tends his rhythm as kindling, with cymbal ticks, sporadic rim clicks and bass drum kicks. The trio gradually slip into more taut and tensile timing, the percussion track slowly piling up beneath a bloom of FX’d guitar. O’Malley maintains a slow, doomy pulse, and the piece stretches out for the remainder of its duration as torpid psych-/stoner blues, Haino’s guitar in the ascendant.
Haino is at his rawest on “who is making the time rot”, where he tangles with O’Malley’s grittily exploratory bass and both get sucked into Ambarchi’s snowballing percussion maelstrom. Haino barks short vocal phrases into the wind and creates raw synth noise, presumably with a Chaos Pad. O’Malley plays scuzzy lead bass until Haino switches to lacerative lead, his sound still radiating from within the vortical pummelling of Ambarchi’s drum track.
Where the other three pieces on this album are around eighteen minutes long, “who is making the time rot” is only half that length: nine minutes of ferociously compacted intensity.
The last and title piece, “the most painful time / happens only once / has it arrived already..?” begins as a back-to-basics, Blue Cheer-influenced psych rock stomper, with Haino chopping out serried riffs amid sonic scurf and ductile, exploratory soloing while O’Malley and Ambarchi lock into a cavernous, symbiotic lope. It’s the most immediate and imposing piece of a set that expertly blends avant-abstraction with raw heavyosity.
Less artful than Haino and Ambarchi’s trio with Jim O’Rourke, and less wracked and tortured than either Nazoranai’s self-titled 2012 debut or Haino’s Fushutitsusha, The Most Painful Time sounds suffused with the Black Country’s heavy heritage.
As the intensity slowly leaches out of the set and Ambarchi’s rhythmic thrust breaks down, Haino emotes vocally while O’Malley produces bass sounds that mimic the plosive key pops of extended technique, low-end saxophony. But raw swells of guitar and unplaceable electrical discharges constantly threaten whiplash laceration, and the trio sounds dangerously volatile until the dying embers of a gradual fade to black, where Haino sings us out with a sustained spectral yowl.
Keiji Haino guitar, vocals & synth; Stephen O’Malley bass guitar; Oren Ambarchi drums.
Richard Pinhas and Oren Ambarchi – Tikkun
Stephen O’Malley and Steve Noble – St Francis Duo
Fushitsusha, John Butcher and Temperatures at St John at Hackney, October 2012
Keiji Haino with Steve Noble + Phil Minton at Cafe Oto, March 2012
Buy The most painful time happens only once has it arrived already..? direct from Editions Mego.