Crafting a tribute to a figurehead in the realm of noise tends to ride that thin line between irony and sincerity. Indeed, the surface assumption by many outside the community that all noise, especially the gargantuan crunch of the “harsh” sub-genre, sounds the same is just that sarcastic half-truth that even most noise connoisseurs with a self-aware sense of humor have a delight in throwing around on occasion. Still, a constant and probing exploration into this realm yields distinct nuances and artistic identities between its practitioners, and differentiating between, say, The Haters, Masonna, and The Rita can be a rather facile task for the practiced listener. With that in mind, could a sincere and compelling noise tribute album (the bane of most every genre and sub-genre) be that far off?
I’m reminded of the piece "Really Into The Haters" on last year’s excellent The French Record by Sissy Spacek, with the composition acting as an impressively spot-on love letter to anti-art/anti-music pioneer GX Juppiter Larsen and his Haters project. The apocalyptic clattering of ambiguous metals had obvious ties to Larsen's looped symphonies of atonal squalor, and its attention to detail and abiding appreciation of The Haters' destruction of music and the artistic notions of John Wiese and company elevated it above mere imitation.
But how to approach a tribute aimed at The New Blockaders, one of the most enigmatic, influential, frustrating, and perplexing pioneers of what has come to be considered noise? Richard and Paul Rupenus’ project is deserving of all the fanatical fascination into their conceptual infamy; working alongside The Haters’ anti-art obsessions and arguably forging them into bleaker and more nihilistic realms, the Rupenuses have traversed all boundaries of sound, putting to task both the concept of enjoyability in recording as well as the idea of ownership in one's creation; there are rumors of Blockader actions with no input from either of the Rupenuses, as well as the infamy of blank cassettes and other mediums.
The Blockaders' debut Changez Les Blockeurs was supposedly created by mic'ing a shed in which the band dragged chains around, while releases such as the tape-hiss symphony of Epater Les Bourgeios reached a certain apex of ne plus ultra through subversive confrontation. Were such releases genuine explorations of sounds (or lack thereof), or were they a sardonic ruse to confront the institutionalized pretension of the greater artistic identities? Or are both assumptions valid, or neither? We will most likely never have a straight answer, as the notorious anonymity of Richard Rupenus' — who has seemingly been taking TNB's reins on his own with help from some well-known or completely anonymous co-conspirators — has established TNB as one of the most deservedly fascinating and unsurprisingly under-analyzed sound projects of the past 30 years.
With this taken into account, finding harsh noise stalwart Richard Ramirez (of Werewolf Jerusalem, Black Leather Jesus, and a litany of other projects/guises) and the late Japanese noise master MSBR tackling the perplexing ambiguity and non-identity of TNB holds much potential for a compelling bit of gratitude. While TNB's influence is immeasurable in the noise underground, both of these excellent noise generators share many dissimilarities with the Rupenuses, whether through MSBR's no-bullshit gonzo harsh squalls or Ramirez's use of alternatingly shocking and campy BSDM/horror imagery (a trope that has become something of an exhausting cliché in certain factions of extreme music these days). With comparatively more blatant and unambiguous personae, how do these two figures set about paying direct reverence to a project favoring the extremes of ambiguity, uniformity, and near non-existence?
Negative/Offensive is astutely divided into two programs, both very fitting for the vinyl format; “Negative” finds Ramirez composing source material provided by MSBR, while “Offensive” takes on the inverse. Both pieces are deemed “a celebration of the influential anti-artists Richard and P.D. Rupenus,” though obvious threads into TNB mythology remain scarce on initial listen. “Negative” traffics in a familiar Rameriz rumble, a burble of feedback and anti-noise boiling along into a stew, with only occasional shards of metallic surreality seeping through the storm. Ramirez’s disdain for input and his minimal set-up — he’s claimed to use only four or so effects pedals and no mixing in his performances — have a spiritual affinity in the Rupenus doctrine of nothingness, but it feels like a fairly standard blast of sonic sadism befitting of Ramirez, which, although solid, does not necessarily make clear any explicit homage to the source of inspiration — though with TNB as the theme, maybe therein lies the joke?
Meanwhile, “Offensive” (Ramirez filtered through MSBR's psyche) feels much more familiar with the TNB trajectory. Koji Tano (MSBR) forces Ramirez’s grime into a shrieking symphony of clanging machinery, the sweeping and abrasive feel of scraped and abused metal hearkening to such TNB documents as their superb Live At Anti-Fest archival release. As far as post-industrial music is concerned, “Offensive” is a superb venture into the malevolence of mechanized clatter as a foreboding, consuming pollution, the unrelenting and ever-building squall of machines slowly lulling the living into bleak states of masochistic artificiality. It’s suffocating and enthralling, the kind of audio abuse that, at its harshest, seems to project a force of negative energy into the Blockaders’ seemingly cynical gaze of humanity handing over the reins to the unpredictable, gargantuan beast of technological squalor. The end clang of what sounds like a thousand broken machines devolving into an orgy of disorganized violence is perhaps the most apt nod from Ramirez and Tano to their sonic forefathers.
The mastering on this Ecstatic Peace! vinyl is superb, all the sounds retaining the brutality and force necessary to deliver its intent. While TNB still stand head-and-shoulders above much of noise's unrelenting output, Ramirez and Tano pay just respect to those who made their works a reality, a symphony of negativity that I’m sure the Rupenuses would find fitting.