Dr. Josef “Angel of Death” Mengele carved himself into the modern psyche with a few flicks of his cruel scalpel, but his Japanese counterpart, Dr. Shiro Ishii, conveniently seems to have avoided the same well deserved notoriety. As commander of the infamous Unit 731 in Manchuria, Ichii and his staff performed all manner of vile experimentation on Chinese peasants and Soviet P.O.W.’s – dehumanized as maruta (“logs of wood”) – by their sadistic captors in their quest to perfect chemical and bacteriological weaponry.
In the interest of journalistic thoroughness, this weekend I subjected myself to back to back viewings of notorious 1988 Chinese exploitation film Men Behind the Sun and Andrey Iskanov’s often tedious four and a half hour shockumentary Philosophy of a Knife, two of the few representations of Unit 731’s savagery in popular culture. While neither strive toward academic levels of historicity, they bear graphic witness to World War II’s second Holocaust.
More than just another monicker to shock and evince some notion of extremity, Maruta’s potent admixture of offhand brutality and clearly thought out attack sonically channels the charnel atmosphere of one of the worst – and least discussed – atrocities of the 20th Century, painting a portrait of pain and casual sadism with a palette of curdled blood, purpled contusions and gangrenous yellow.
But it’s not all blunt force trauma experiments. Maruta also know how to wield a scalpel.
After being clubbed over the head with a blunt instrument for three straight songs, “Demise of the Humanist” sees these grindcore Neanderthals whip out slide rules and begin lecturing on the finer points of trigonometry in a song laced with enough pinch harmonics and technical snazzy to light up fans of Lethargy and Creation is Crucifixion. It’s those kinds of moments when tempos slow to let double bass work over take the incessant blast beatdowns and guitarist Eduardo Borja carves out enough space to prove he’s more than just an adrenaline junky punk banger that Maruta truly come into their own as a grind force to be faced and feared. “Rise of the Iron Moth” sounds more like a swarm of Africanized titanium bees on a kamikaze run with your face.
Add in production values thick as a week old puddle of bodily fluids on a surgery floor, and Willowtip have a sure fire winner on their hands. And this is just Maruta’s debut.