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Ruins - Tzomborgha

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Artist: Ruins

Album: Tzomborgha

Label: Ipecac

Review date: Jan. 9, 2003

Dynamic duo's best one yet

The first time I heard Ruins, on a compilation LP, I thought that the liner notes must have been messed up, because there were clearly more than two people playing that music! I'm sure that a lot of first-time listeners who pick up Tzomborgha will have exactly the same thought. Then they'll decide that there must have been a hell of a lot of overdubs done during this recording. Well, wait'll they see the dynamic duo play live. Yes, in fact, this is just a bassist and a drummer (who also sings).

Drummer/singer Yoshida Tatsuya originally formed the Tokyo-based band back in the early 80s. The story goes that the original idea was to have a standard trio lineup, but the guitarist didn't make it to the first rehearsal. Yoshida and the bassist played anyway, and decided that it worked just fine, so the band has been a duo ever since. Based on Yoshida's overwhelming admiration for Magma, the complex rhythmic constructions are topped by his remarkable vocalizations in his own made-up language (as titles like "Wanzhemvergg" and "Chittam Irangaayo" make clear). Bassist Sasaki Hisashi has been working with Yoshida for a number of years now, and is probably his best partner yet. With him the songs have gotten denser and more exciting, as his bass ranges maniacally from deep thundering and almost metal-style distorted crunch to high-end leads and pitch-shifted sound effects.

This album features excellent production, including some neat tricks that are perhaps firsts for the band, like the cool panning of the bass sound during "Komnigriss," the opening track. The band still specializes, as always, in insanely fast-shifting structures and perfect timing. "Mennevuogth" is an amazing example of the duo's jaw-dropping ability to shift gears abruptly from high-speed instrumental gymnastics to dramatic choruses, dropping into a thunderous break and back out with precision that defies the imagination. Call it punk-uber-prog-insanity, or perhaps the most intense math-rock you'll ever hear. This album might also have the first 'pretty' Ruins song ever, "Wanzhemvergg," which breaks midway into steady drums, plucked bass harmonics, and synth sounds floating over the rhythm; Yoshida's vocals are actually peaceful chants. It's great and unexpected. The near-funk riffing at the start of “Gurthemvhail” actually grooves, while "Chittam Irangaayo" is more melodic than many past Ruins tracks, with middle-eastern-style vocals harmonizing with the bass; a great track.

And of course I have to mention the two medleys here, Black Sabbath (!) and Mahavishnu Orchestra. The fuzz bass and weird time changes between the Black Sabbath songs is a lot of fun, and Yoshida's voice is rather interesting in place of Ozzy's... The Mahavishnu Orchestra medley is so obvious that it's almost no surprise, and they pull it off with aplomb. And when you consider that Sasaki is playing McLaughlin's guitar parts on a bass, it's pretty goddamn amazing.

All in all, I think this might be the best Ruins album yet, which is impressive considering their lengthy discography. While so many bands seem to lose steam, Ruins continue to not only keep up their intensity but expand and grow as well. That makes this newest release both an excellent place to start and a necessary acquisition for the band's existing fans.

By Mason Jones

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