You know that segment of The Animatrix “World Record” where sprinter Dan Davis literally runs until his muscles rend and he destroys his body in pursuit of an untouchable 100 meter record, leaping from the Matrix through to reality in the process? That’s pretty much the sensation of GridLink’s Orphan, a relentless 12 minute amplification of everything that made Amber Gray the greatest album of 2008. It's a transcendent, boundary shattering nugget that’s one minute longer than Amber Gray so kwitcherbitchin, clock watchers.
Mark it down on your calendars: at 9 p.m. Eastern time Jan. 5 the race for 2011 album of the year began – and possibly ended – when Jon Chang gave me an exclusive sneak peak at Orphan.
As with Hayaino Daisuki’s transition from Headbangers Karaoke Club Dangerous Fire to Invincible Gate Mind of the Infernal Fire Hell… Or Did You Mean Hawaii Daisuki?, Orphan is also a refinement of what GridLink had already been doing so damn well. It’s an intricately layered album that boasts a bigger sound, faster tempos and more melody in one emotionally wearying package. Some of these songs are almost hummable.
“I don’t want to say I really want to make a catchy record, but I really do,” said Chang, who said Deathspell Omega is the first band to really capture his attention since collaborator Takafumi Matsubara’s Mortalized. (And may I just say, meatspace Chang is an exuberant personality whose opinions aren’t quite as … let’s call them … impassioned [that’s a good word] as one would assume from internet interactions with him. I hope I didn't ruin some of your preconceived notions by humanizing him.)
“Takafumi said the first GridLink and Hayaino Daisuki were all brutality and he wanted to add intelligence,” Chang said.
For all the hubbub about Steve Procopio (ex-Human Remains, sometimes Discordance Axis substitute) and Ted Patterson’s (ex-Human Remains/Burnt by the Sun) addition, I listened to Orphan three times before I even remembered they had joined up. So don’t expect too many changes in that direction. Rather they just lay a foundation to for Matsubara to push what he was already doing in even more aggressive and intricate directions.
Just listening to Matsubara fillet his fingertips and drummer Bryan Fajardo crack tendons on the bullet train “Scopedog” is enough to set my joints to creaking with incipient arthritis. The songs are so unrelenting in their tempos (and the band insists everything must be recorded live with no punch-ins later) that Fajardo had to master a two footed blast to provide the requisite intensity, but the payoff is in the organic aggression that forms the album’s foundation.
“This record was a huge challenge for him,” Chang said. “This was a grueling record to make. Making any record like this is miserable.”
Vocally, Chang has broadened his repertoire to keep up with his cohorts’ demanding performances. Yes, the low end grunts are back, but so is and the same alleyway mugger come-on that graced Hayaino Daisuki’s “Shibito.” That means one of the finest lyricists in grind is screaming with enough clarity that you can occasionally hear what’s on his mind.
“The high vocals didn’t fit with everything I wanted to do. I went back and changed some of the parts out,” Chang said.
And what’s on his mind these days is more political than albums past. Inspired by his recent work on “real world military stuff” at his game developer day job, Chang said he wanted to attack issues like Islam (opener “Dar al-Harb,” “Flatworlder”[sorry for the original typo]), militarism and war (“The Last Red Shoulder”), the dislocation of technology and traveling (“Red Eye,” the title track) and other splinters of our shattered millennium.
But beyond that, interpretation is up to you, he said.
“I try to come to this with no expectations of what people will take away from it. What it meant for me isn’t going to be the same thing it meant for someone else to take away from it.”
Orphan is still slated for a late February or early March release. The first pressing will be vinyl, including a remixed version of Amber Gray that adds bass by Patterson. It will also come with a download of karaoke versions of the songs so you can stop embarrassing yourself in those Justin Bieber lip synch videos you’ve been posting to YouTube. A “very limited” run of CDs – possibly as few as 200 – will come later. And if you didn’t catch the band at Maryland Deathfest (which pretty much paid for the recording sessions for Orphan), don’t look for GridLink on your local bill. The combination of a sagging economy and the reality of being bi-continental means the band probably won’t venture beyond the confines of New York City.
But while you’re still absorbing Orphan, GridLink are already talking about the next album. Inspired by Red Dead Redemption’s soundtrack, Chang said that could involve acoustic grindcore – complete with blastbeats and death screams if Matsubara can get his head around the concept. Early experiments in that direction haven’t gelled as of it, Chang said.
Until they work that out - even if they never do - Orphan will provide plenty to dissect and explore for now, demanding repeated listens to tease out its subtle mysteries. If I didn’t already have a decade of emotions invested in The Inalienable Dreamless, this could have been my favorite album of all time. For some of you, it probably will be.