Gridlink – Coronet Juniper Review

Have you ever heard Gridlink’s 2014 opus Longhena? If you haven’t, then you wouldn’t quite understand why your local anime pfp’d grind addict can be found twitching about shouting the pleasures of that modern grind classic, especially in anticipation of this new chapter in the New Jersey grind outfit’s story. Shortly after the release of that seminal work, key Gridlink player, the Japanese-born guitarist Takafumi Matsubara (ex-Hayaino Daisuki), suffered a kind of stroke, greatly impairing his left-hand mobility—the nightmare of any guitarist, let alone one known for blistering technicality. We never knew whether Matsubara would ever be able to grind again, let alone even jangle a guitar, but over the years he slowly recovered and released his own work. Legendary throat artist Jon Chang (ex-Discordance Axis, ex-Hayaino Daisuki) too re-emerged with 2019’s No One Knows What the Dead Think release. But the two knew they had to grind again, together, if only just this one more time.

Between Chang’s unmatchable wails, Matsubara’s treble addictions, and the frantic rhythm section run wild by Bryan Fajardo (Cognizant, ex-Phobia) and newcomer Mauro Cordoba (Maruta), Gridlink blasts faster, shriller, and more brutally canorous than other grind acts. Coronet Juniper lands no different in that regard, shifting through fast and faster movements at a whiplash pace among whirling, ascending melodies and formidable kit-abuse. The forty-five minutes that have comprised Gridlink’s three album discography to this point culminated in the violin-accompanied Longhena, which re-wrote the rules about how beautiful, post-rock melodies could dust a grind-scarred landscape. Gridlink never needed to make another album to be important. But if Longhena told a sweeping story of loss and longing, then Coronet Juniper aims to tell a story of bravery in the face of having lived through that tragedy.

In a tale as old as grind, Matsubara’s resplendent, guiding strings propel Coronet Juniper toward its first level of success. Gridlink’s portfolio lays littered with the kind of addictive, intercepting fretwork that reveals itself quickly in the scorching “Silk Ash Cascade” and reprises in the triumphant structure of “Pitch Black Resolve.” Culminating in the one-hundred-seventy-eight second epic “Ocean Vertigo,” and the closest that Gridlink has ever come to sounding like Powerslave Maiden,1 Matsubara’s penchant to blaze a trail with dry, piercing tremolo, punky twang, and jagged, fighting riff defines Coronet Juniper’s first half. You can even hear a cranked speed ode to Emporer at the end of “Anhalter Bahnhof” snuck in against the buoyant, churning guitar-swarm—Matsubara plays what he loves. The remaining, blistering numbers feature still more of his fretted mastery, but the rhythmic quakes and violent growls that follow feed off a different fuel.

The other core of Gridlink, Fajardo’s unpredictable but predictably punishing sticks and Chang’s rapidly dissolving mic, drives the back end to a glorious and concise conclusion. Take your pick—the stutter-brake syncopation that halts “Refrain,” the pure grind swagger that explodes “Octave Serpent,” the dramatic blast that underpins a brutal and guttural Chang shredding “The Forger’s Secade”—shake and shatter the by comparison dancing air of what came before. Fajardo excels at following his bandmate’s egregiously caustic howling with shifting skanks and blasts, but after he starts to open his kit more dynamically on “Ocean Vertigo,” his rhythmic path shifts to break-neck tempo drifts and major fill incisions (“Coronet Juniper,” “Zygomatic”) that lead Gridlink to swinging chord finishes. And atop each densely packed layer of weaving guitar lines, popping bass, and wrecked skins, Chang morphs his ripping runs from feral to demented, unleashing his lowest snarl (“The Forger’s Secade”) and his most blood-draining hiss (“Revenant Orchard”) to resolve an overwhelming nineteen-minute skirmish.

Overwhelming from a production standpoint, Coronet Juniper sets a tight2 window for the carefully stacked and spread sound forms that each member lets loose. Overwhelming from a thematic standpoint, Chang’s vocal trajectory paints a sanguine picture of a fiery, foolish collapse. Overwhelming intentionally, as great grind ought to, Gridlink does little to soften the blow. And, truthfully, Coronet Juniper has done little to expand the Gridlink expression. But as a cumulation, refinement, veteran exploration—possibly the last given the way the band promotes upcoming live shows—Gridlink delivers an elegant composite of searing grind reverence. This isn’t a missed shot at glory, nor is it a safe play for an easy win—it’s a war willed by grind. And though Coronet Juniper throws the punches you might expect, I can’t help but smile and scream along.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Willowtip Records | Bandcamp
Releases Worldwide: September 15th, 2023

Show 2 footnotes

  1. If only for half a minute.
  2. Too tight? Maybe.
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