Like many of my fellow contributors, I’m a fan of the spectacularly weird at times. Granted, my last couple encounters with such didn’t go particularly well, but as music reviewing goes, the realms of the avant-garde are a bit like playing with fire. Getting singed is just part of the gig and will eventually threaten to pay off, like with this little two-partner project from Japanese noise artist Masaaki Masao and a-little-of-everything vocalist Joy Von Spain. To End It All’s debut, Scourge of Woman, is a monument to noise, anguish and righteous, burning rage; abrasive and chaotic, yet subtle and restrained, defiantly refusing to coddle the listener. Does this sound and fury reach its intended aim, or does it, in fact, signify nothing?1
“Lure” builds slowly, working through a round of free-associative spoken word, firm and precise, but just distant enough to discombobulate before offering the first of the album’s many progressions of synth lines and interwoven samples, alternately rumbling and jagged, piercing and cavernous. Masao exhibits masterful control of mood and atmosphere across the whole release, but Von Spain is no slouch herself. Her renowned versatility is on full display here offering a wonderfully deranged shriek through the entire main body of “Lure” and “Beast Filth,” ranging through atonal chanting on “No Hero’s Death,” and even including haunting melodic work over the menacing rumble of “Mouths Searching for the Breast.” Also of note as a standout noise piece is vinyl-only bonus track “Cages Bleed Shiver and Shake,” a churning, biting, auditory swarm that builds discomfort on a whole other level to the rest of the album, further aided by frenzied growling by Von Spain.
There are a few weaker spots; “Future Aborted” and “In Cases of Rape or Incest” both tend a bit strongly to repetition, and suffer slightly for it. The sustained synth lines in the latter are particularly noticeable. I would also suggest excising “Instinctual Force,” a bit of moody atmosphere that doesn’t quite flow with the tracks bookending it. This would also serve to further tighten the runtime from its already relatively trim 38 minutes. Scourge is an excellent collection of songcraft, but is a perfect example of unapproachability in music, and could stand to be more bite-sized.
As one would expect from such an imbalanced, disorienting songwriting palate, the mix and mastering are major contributors as well. While the mix is adequate, the mastering job is unnecessarily claustrophobic and severely lacks consistency. Despite an average of DR4-5, the album ranges from DR3 to DR7, with “No Hero’s Death” clocking in at DR12 and badly skewing the average. But is this really a useful assessment? Noise notoriously bends dynamic range compression to the end of sensory abuse just as it does everything else, and a metalhead’s assessment of the norms of a wholly different genre are perhaps taken with a grain of salt. However, caveats aside, I can’t shake the feeling the album would have sounded even better with more room to breathe.
Scourge of Woman is a challenging beast. It’s one of the most discomforting listening experiences I’ve ever had, on par with or exceeding much of Portal or Dodecahedron’s work; this makes it difficult to actually recommend, but it absolutely achieves its apparent goals without digression or distraction, and for that, it deserves a spin or three.