The thing I have always loved about Kogumaza is that they play what, on the surface, would be considered ‘heavy’ music but have removed all traces of the type of ‘macho’ that is normally par for the course of heavy music. There’s no doubt they owe an ancestral debt to Black Sabbath (listen to that riffage on the opening side’s ‘Tohil’ if proof is required on that count) but, instead of aggression, their music revolves around waves of warm buzz, not sharp attack. Even the snare drum is turned off for Fugues, trading the regular snap for a heavily reverberated, wooden clang. The top end is rolled off the guitar distortion and we are just left with an inviting, lava fuzz.
Stoner rock is one name that might be thrown at Kogumaza’s music, but that notion feels too lazy for me. While slowed down rhythms often dominate, regular jumps into double tempo kosmiche add considered contrast, and there is a distinct lack of aimless noodling. Everything is either pulsatingly repetitive and controlled, or melodically unison. I guess what I’m saying is that Fugues is highly orchestrated, rather than lazily hocked together. Every element, every segue carefully considered. This is heightened by the fact that this is purely instrumental music, throwing the spotlight directly onto the musical arrangements without voices or lyrics to distract. A lot of care and craft has gone into making the album flow past so effortlessly. And those ‘fugues’ of the album title really are the basis of the music – small melodic parts which are taken up by the different instruments and wound around each other to create a mesmerising whole.
This attention to detail is also seen in the rhythmic constructions across Fugues. It actually took me the bulk of the 9 minutes before ‘Io’ segues into ‘Tohil’ and explodes into 4/4 drive, the first time I listened through, to realise that, actually, the entire track was actually 4/4, not some convoluted math-rock time signature. A sly shift of placement of the snare is all it has taken to throw expectation out the window. The fact that it follows this chosen path relentlessly for that 9 minutes, though, means you do slip into its pulse and get lost in the sound. The same for the 12/8 push and pull of ‘Exploding Head Syndrome’ which feels awkward until the repetition forces familiarity which, then, pulls you under its mesmerising spell. That 12/8 tact is also taken across the album’s central, sprawling ‘Sub-Photic’, which adds a dub-worthy bass pulse to the ambient flicker and unison riffing of the guitars.
At exactly 72 minutes, it seems that Fugues has been constructed to precisely fill the length of a CD (though its release will be on double vinyl and download). In the mid-90s, that became the downfall of many an artist wishing to give ‘value-for-money’, thus diluting their strengths. The opposite is true for Kogumaza. I find that their greatest strength is their ability to submerge me completely. The longer that is maintained, the more powerful the effect. I don’t like metal much, but what Kogumaza do is return metal tropes (piles of distortion, heavy riffing, volume etc) to their psychedelic roots, reconstitute them in their own image and emerge with a sound that has more in common with classic shoe-gaze and krautrock. The bottom line is, once I’m in, I never really want it to end.