A long time ago, when I was younger and sillier and would have laughed at concepts such as a ‘quiet Saturday night’ or a ‘stay-cation’ or ‘earplugs at a gig,’ I used to regularly get together with some mates for a listening party. We would hang out at my place: a stereotypically seedy sharehouse, with ratty couches in the living room, stains on the carpet, holes in the walls, a fridge filled with nothing but beer and rotting veggies, and ever-present dishes in the sink. We would make a raucous night of it, and argue over which record to play next. Being teenage boys in a depressed country town, most of the fellas were into your typical ‘angry young man’ music. But some of us liked stuff that was a bit different, a bit edgier, a bit weirder, a bit heavier. Where they liked Slayer, we liked Einstürzende Neubauten; where they liked Metallica, we liked Sun O))); where they liked Sepultura, we liked Boris. We would try and outdo each other by hunting out ever more obscure bands, chin-stroking music wankers before our time. Back then, nothing got us as excited as Acid Mothers Temple.
Well, fast-forward fifteen years and times sure have changed – I’m older, not much wiser, and am sitting here enjoying a nice slice of domestic bliss. But thankfully, those crazy folk behind Acid Mothers Temple haven’t changed. In fact, Benzaiten is a monster that’s probably up there with the best work they’ve done. Each of the four epic songs that make it up – the shortest clocking in at 14:06, the longest at 19:07 – have their own distinct musical identities, and yet the album feels like a complete whole, taking us on a ride to hypnotic and wild psychedelic places where noise reigns and freak-out is king. The title track sets the mood straightaway: a drawn-out organ drone is subsumed by the kind of deranged boogie/garage psy-rock beat that makes Acid Mothers Temple a slice of fried gold. The beat goes on and they ride it out, the demented guitar lines dripping with so many fx that they’re more rubbery waves of distortion and fuzz. And then everyone settles, quietening down a little and letting a Koto or Shamisan pluck and plink away madly while a chanting baritone vocal almost swamped with delay echoes on and on.
“December Stops > Etekoraku > Etekobushi” is a much more mellow affair. The stutter and moan of what I presume is a Shakuhachi underpins a quiet soundscape filled with bursts of clutter and found-sounds and odd noises, where numerous drums and pieces of percussion ring out almost at random and synths and electronic drones exist somewhere in the background, only to suddenly swoop in and fill a space and then subside again. Over its 19+ minutes, its movement never stops, the volume beautifully dynamic and effortlessly swinging between soft-loud-soft, the texture of the soundscape fluidly moving back and forth between sparse and busy and between subdued and chaotic. “Benzaiten Reprise” and “Benzaiten Coda” reprise “Benzaiten” and “December Stops > Etekoraku > Etekobushi,” only in vastly different ways: “Benzaiten Reprise” pays tribute to the never-ending and completely deranged psy-rock beat of “Benzaiten,” only this time the beat never stops; while “Benzaiten Coda” tips its hat to the almost ambient randomness of “December Stops > Etekoraku > Etekobushi,” only with the volume turned right up and the distorted guitar filling every inch of space and the drums pounding on and on.
Benzaiten takes you to a very weird place. Buy a ticket, get on board.