I have spent the better part of three months trying to figure out a way of presenting Body Hammer’s masterful ‘Jigoku’ (Japanese for Hell) in a review format. Originally, a selfish and indulgent self-story that linked the album’s subject matter to events in my own life was to be my method. Here, we have the more straightforward method of gushing over a work like it was one’s first unlost love or treasured memory that defined the possibilities of one’s own lifetime. While there are personal narratives paralleling the work, it is far more important that the record should become a part of your life. After all, it is about the future. Or maybe the present through the prism of the future? Vice Versa? Think and practice on.
I know next to nothing about electronic music or its many offshoots nor have I made any concerted effort to find out more but Body Hammer is a revelation to me. Such mind expanding experiences are usually characterized by a newfound hunger that must be satiated. Over the course of playing the record over and over again, I found myself finding great fulfillment in the distorted and disgusted atmosphere that ‘Jigoku’ doled out. Even though the record wraps up at around the 36 minute mark, the last track ‘Untitled’ is silent save for a dénouement section that begins towards the end. This might be a long running time for a record of this genre, but I found myself wanting more, much more (in the best possible way).
A solo project of singer/guitarist Ryan Page (recently relocated to Oakland, another great addition to Northern California!), Body Hammer promises just about everything that the electronic genres could/should offer. It is immense, inhuman, horrifying, insightful, poetic, seductive, fun, incisive…we could name many more. Above all, this work is a product of great creativity, thought and vision, which when conjoined builds something of great weight.
From a glance, it is clear that the project’s name is drawn from the Japanese action/body horror film ‘Tetsuo II: Body Hammer,’ which was directed by Shin’ya Tsukamoto. Being a huge fan of the first film (still haven’t seen the rest of the series!), ‘Tetsuo: The Iron Man,’ and Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga and anime film ‘Akira,’ (Character Tetsuo Shima being some of the inspiration for the ‘Tetsuo’ series), I was automatically attracted to the name and the fantastic cover artwork by Mudwart. Said artwork depicts possible sensations that might occur if a human being was to be transformed in a rapid/slow fashion into a post/trans-human (mentally, physically or something in between or beyond), and gives the listener a good idea of the experience waiting for them. And this case, something very uncomfortable awaits. There are other references to Japanese horror like ‘MPD Psycho,’ which is a manga and television series that deals with a detective suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder. There is also a reference to ‘Gozu’ (a Takashi Miike film) in ‘The Square Root of 964.’ Exploring the influence Japanese media has had upon the ‘western’ consciousness is something that has interested me personally, and to see an artist use said influences is very illustrative of the possibilities inherent in exchange. Like the science fiction that inspired its conceptual framework and the music that matched it, it is both shocking and amazing.
That is because ‘Jigoku’ is nothing short of enthralling, swirling madness. The record is structured into two general, with a ‘statement’ segment that makes up the first half that features mostly short and violent bursts of multi-genre mayhem, and an ‘exploration’ half which opens up into extended song lengths and atmospherics. I am personally more drawn to the opening salvos, because they are so intense and destructive that there is little reason to pay attention to anything else going on in the world. In the course of just a few minutes, the listener is flung full force into a monstrous maelstrom that cuts and rips the runner in a manner similar to a female fantasy protagonist fleeing through the bare branches that fill an old world forest. Like said protagonist, the cybernetic tendrils first tear away the clothing, exposing the frail body. Then, taking the next step, the intestinal cables burrow deep into the weak flesh and flay away the muscle, tissue, fat and skin. This militated form is then subjected to assimilation with the tormentor via modification , whom seeks a venue for proliferation and higher levels of consciousness. It isn’t a pretty sight, but I think it is a necessary one for the species we are and the struggles of our ancestors human and animal. And this is just one the inevitable runs of imagination that can occur with something this evocative.
It is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the stunted and strangled vocals that open ‘Red Pyramid,’ or feel anything except dread during ‘The Square Root of 964’ (which is 31.048349392520047457724923534346…by the way), a direct march into the jaws of industrial perdition. ‘Blue Eyed Assassin’ uses electric arpeggio-like grinding to great effect, while ‘Greatknife’ and ‘It’s Not Even Human Shove It Back In’ are about as cybergrind as I can imagine. There is far too much to mention in one review!
The endgame presented within the depths of ‘When Mental Anguish Exceeds the Capacity for Physical Pain’ is one that I endeavored and feared to reside in many times in my short and uneventful life. What kind of circumstances lead to such a state? Is it poverty? Abuse? Trauma? While there are many people out in the world who have lived in such an advanced state of disillusion, how does a person who has lived a comfortable life even begin to fathom such feelings? Through art, perhaps? You decide.
Every nerve in my body is screaming/and with every second it becomes more unbearable
Vibrations are waves of razors and from my mouth comes a froth of saliva and blood
Held down with no capacity for movement/yet my eyes spin incessantly
Constant sweat from skin not breathing/ my confusion only exceeded by my pain
I have discovered the cords from which we are all suspended
Most of the time, expression and exploration must take the place of such extreme tangible experiences. It is one thing to paint a picture and relay feelings and techniques, but it is another to actually live through be trapped within the moment presented within the painting. Imagine how Saturn feels within Goya’s famous work! Or how Tetsuo Shima is destined to lose his own body to the godlike power that struggles to free itself within the span of two hours! It might be a human’s greatest fear to be a part of some sort of plan (destiny, providence etc) that is far out one’s own control. In the case of body horror, one’s most private and personal belongings, the body itself, is put in jeopardy. Aging, sickness and death are real things, and inspire real horror, but so can/does loss of control in any aspect of life. From losing one’s health all the way to being a part of some metaphysical game with unknown motivations there is horror. It is everywhere. And Body Hammer, like it’s influences, ask what other sorts of horrors are we opening up inside and outside of ourselves? Again, think and practice on.
In closing, what is Mr. Page’s choice for lyrics for the short burst “The Principles and Practices of Nihilism?”
Few things in this world are as succinct and eloquent. More please. Much more.
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Path Less Traveled Records