As much as I enjoy Minazo, I just wish I’d heard it before reading Merzbow’s emotive piece of writing in the liner notes on the death of the only male elephant seal in Japan. Anyone aware of Merzbow beyond the cursory King of Noise title will know of his support of PETA and other organisations, but he’s never been this eloquent before; most of his sleeves don’t go any further than a few web addresses. Because of this it’s difficult not to hear Minazo’s screams, sullen brooding silences, or the imposition of incarceration throughout Merzbow’s furious noise as anything but a tribute. And if I hadn’t read the liners, there’s no way of telling I would’ve found Minazo as viscerally personal. Sure, the gorgeous gold cartoon representation of the seal’s on the cover hints at it, but it doesn’t make it obvious.

This black four track takes a non-canonical sidestep from his Important Records Merz… series, almost completely avoiding his beat explorations. In fact the only example of Akita using his steadily improving rhythm work is on “Three”s intro, where a tense broken rhythm track splutters and vanishes in seconds. This feels like a slight step outside of the normal Merzbow scheme of things, an unhappy diversion and catharsis.

The way that Masami Akita brings Minazo back to life by manipulating elements of sound is a side to his music that hasn’t really been seen before. It’s one thing to capture the atmosphere of a bondage basement or of oppressive ambience, this is a whole other kettle of fish. The irregular pounding that permeates this album in shifts is the frantic up and down of heartbeats / blood pressure. And between the broad black pulses are shrieking torrents of almost wah-wah like guitar feedback, shredded screams almost organic in origin. This is shown again on “Four” where feedback seems to groan and topple into what could either be horns or vocals.

The whole album seems to be taking a slightly more subtle (in terms of placing, not in terms of ferocity) route and a wider production view. Whereas in the past it’s sometimes been as much brutality as four channels could handle, Minazo is more akin to the earlier more experimental material. Accommodating more space and less reliant on the spinning frequency dial, there is more contemplation. The omnipresent hum of “Two” births a moody stillness that’s both pent-up and fucked-up: solitary confinement and no escape. This confined energy carries such a frantic emotional wallop that when trying to keep up, it can feel a little like a mental straitjacket. Even still, Minazo is an album looking to generate empathy and understanding rather than trying to obliterate. It’s an enjoyable, personal release and a good place to kick off a Merzbow collection