The Inalienable Dreamless still sounds like grindcore from the future, and set the bar so high for the genre that it wasn’t really surprising, though nonetheless sad news to bear, when Discordance Axis broke up soon after its release in 2000. The New Jersey trio poured their all they had into that monumental creative effort, which even aside from the mind-blowing, almost gnostic music contained within – an abstract landscape with shards of jagged riffs flying amid jackhammer blastbeats, piercing screams and wounded growls – had the gall to aspire to artistic pretensions above its station, both visually (the stark artwork, depicting a wide blue sky towering above a becalmed ocean, belies the sonic terrorism within) and lyrically (elevating sci-fi references to the realm of literary fiction way before it was cool for book snobs to cite Iain M Banks). And all of that in a bloody grind album! The cheek!
Quitting while they were so far ahead, Discordance Axis drifted apart in 2001: drummer Dave Witte to neo-thrashers Municipal Waste; guitarist Rob Marton to tinnitus-induced retirement; and vocalist Jon Chang to his art and game design work, though his fire for all things fast and loud would be rekindled after connecting with Japanese guitarist Takafumi Matsubara. As the decade progressed, Chang’s Nipponophilia combined with the Mortalized axe-grinder’s technical riffage to forge the wild fast-thrash of Hayaino Daisuki – but also the hyper-speed grind of GridLink.
If Discordance Axis’ trilogy of albums went out with a glimpse of grindcore’s future, GridLink’s 2008 debut Amber Gray is a transmission from a crazed parallel universe where life is a ‘bullet hell’ shoot-’em-up. Following the DxAx vocals-guitar-drums format (with Kill The Client skin-whacker Bryan Fajardo on the drumstool) but compressing the DxAx sound to its limits, Amber Gray is a dense space-time anomaly, tearing through an album’s worth of material in less than 12 minutes. And its successor – 2011’s Orphan – is barely seconds longer, despite the band expanding to a five-piece as bassist Teddy Patterson (Burnt By The Sun) and former DxAx live guitarist Steve Procopio joined the fold. Their presence here frees up Matsubara to run the fretboard with much more melodic guitar histrionics, which in hindsight provides hints of what would be the band’s ultimate evolution.
That brings us right up to date with Longhena, GridLink’s third and final recorded document, 14 years after DxAx’s own trilogy-completing swansong. And the two statements are easily compared, not least in their shared ambition to push the envelope. On first exposure to the relaxed yet mechanical two-chord riff that opens ‘Constant Autumn’, it’s clear there’s a whole new agenda at play; when the band (all bar Procopio returning from Orphan) engage warp speed a few seconds later, Matsubara’s dominant hooks (tracking both rhythm and lead) are undeniable. And as the next few tracks whiz by, my suspicions are confirmed: Longhena is GridLink mutated by prolonged exposure to Hayaino Daisuki’s unorthodox attitude, and all for the better.
Indeed, the most remarkable thing about this record is that it’s so damn catchy. The Inalienable Dreamless and even previous GridLink records had their fragments of memorable riffs or chord progressions, but Longhena is chock-full of ’em. Proper ear-worms they are, too; don’t be surprised to find yourself humming along to the florid fret flourishes of ‘Stay Without Me’ or ‘The Dodonpachi’ or the breathtaking album closer ‘Look to Windward’. Yet Longhena is definitely grindcore: Fajardo’s drumming is unbelievably fast throughout, and Patterson’s bass brings a solid, grinding heft to the likes of ‘Black Prairie’ and ‘Chalk Maple’, while Matsubara’s technical torrent is provided a dissonant counterpart in Chang’s arresting screams (though, as ever, god knows what he’s yelling about without a lyric sheet).
Longhena‘s ambition is also reflected its expanded running time, about the length of Amber Gray and Orphan combined. Cue tongue-in-cheek accusations that in bowing out GridLink have ‘gone prog’. So fair dues to them for pre-empting such twaddle with the addition of Joey Molinaro’s violin, most notably on the two-minute instrumental ‘Thirst Watcher’ which dares to echo King Crimson at their calmest. My only disappointment, if one can even describe it as such when the rest is so impressive, is that there aren’t more moments like this on the record. Perhaps there’s still one more envelope left to push, even if GridLink won’t be the ones to push it.