Graded on a Curve: Nazoranai,
Beginning to Fall in Line Before Me, So Decorously, the Nature of All That Must Be Transformed

Nazoranai is an international supergroup consisting of sui generis Japanese guitarist Keiji Haino, Australian electro-acoustic composer and noise sculptor Oren Ambarchi, and the US-born Paris-based purveyor of experimental metal Stephen O’Malley, most widely known as a founding member of Sunn O))). Beginning to Fall in Line Before Me, So Decorously, the Nature of All That Must Be Transformed is their third album of “live recorded collaboration,” divided into two side-long parts that rise to a searing plateau, and it’s out now on vinyl through W.25TH, the contemporarily-focused sub-label of San Francisco-based reissue powerhouse Superior Viaduct.

Stephen O’Malley and Oren Ambarchi have collaborated outside of Nazoranai, notably on a handful of Sunn O)))’s releases including 2005’s Black One and ’09’s Monoliths & Dimensions. Ambarchi has also worked extensively with Haino in trio with noted experimentalist and record producer Jim O’Rourke. This background familiarity strengthens a distinction made in W.25TH’s promo text for Beginning to Fall, specifically regarding the group’s mode of operation.

In Japanese calligraphy, Nazoranai means not repeating, which W.25TH clarifies as “developing a distinct, individual style,” the practice further differentiated from “sokkyō,” a term that directly denotes improvisation. Ultimately, Nazoranai strive to not get casually lumped in with those decamped under the free-music umbrella. It’s a point made quite saliently just by listening to their recorded output, a huge, expansive yet methodical sound that fits the supergroup designation without a hitch.

Today, labeling an amalgamation of individuals as a supergroup generally just means all the participants were previously noteworthy from other endeavors, but originally the phrase applied to these sorts of star-groupings from inside the rock genre zone, and particularly on the heavy or hard sides of the spectrum. Nazoranai have the high-profiles down pat; for starters, Haino is a giant of the experimental guitar, with his distinctiveness as comfortable in a band framework, e.g. Vajra, Knead, Sanhedolin, and most prominently Fushitsusha, as it is in one-off collabs or in solo mode.

If someday there exists in some temperate nook a Mt. Rushmore of art-metal, then O’Malley’s mug will assuredly be one of its chiseled likenesses, naturally due to the vast influence of Sunn O))), but also through his leadership of or participation in a slew of other outfits, with Khanate, Burning Witch, Lotus Eaters, and Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine only part of the list.

And like many in the avant-garde, Ambarchi’s documentation on record is aptly described as massive, with much of it solo or in duo, but he’s grouped-up over the years as well; with O’Malley and vocalist Attila Csihar in Gravetemple, with Csihar and Sunn O)))’s Greg Anderson in Burial Chamber Trio, with Csihar, Anderson, O’Malley and Russell Menzies in Pentemple, and indeed all the way back to the ’90s as part of Phlegm and Menstruation Sisters.

All this highlighting of Nazoranai as something other than mere free-improv, and the reinforcement of their rock band-ish, if highly atypical, orientation, might seem a little unnecessary, but as the unit’s first album on an American label (the prior two were issued through O’Malley’s Ideologic Organ) documenting a live performance from the Tokyo venue SuperDeluxe with portions named only “Part 1” and “Part 2,” it’s probably worth stressing that the contents here are decidedly more than an undisciplined free-for-all or conversely, spontaneity bound by rules.

It might take a while to get there, but Beginning to Fall does eventually erupt, spewing forth some of the heaviest rock action these ears have heard in many a moon, and it’s all the better for so successfully eluding cliché. “Part 1” opens with just Ambarchi’s percussion, a spare, inviting interplay of chimes, drums, and cymbals followed soon thereafter with an electronic drone assumedly from O’Malley.

Haino’s entrance, not on guitar but through the violin-like tones of the hurdy-gurdy, solidifies into one of the performance’s finest attributes, a lengthy passage of moaning, aching, glistening strings that extends all the way over to the disc’s second side. Concurrently, Ambarchi’s rhythms undertake a few rock taggable positions without hitting any forthright grooves. At this point it’s essentially about pulse, and he enhances O’Malley and Haino’s sonic mingling. Portions of “Part 1” can sound like a hybrid of the Theater of Eternal Music (or Tony Conrad) and maybe early Can.

As the hurdy-gurdy abates on “Part 2,” the guitar emerges and matters become even more intense, with Ambarchi and O’Malley attaining heft, propulsion, and expressiveness; in short, they’re a superb, utterly non-hackneyed rock rhythm section as Haino takes flight, his playing gnawing and burning as the trio navigate the intersection of heavy psych and free rock.

There are a few for whom Haino’s vocals are a deal-breaker, but to this writer his voice, which often moves from a whisper to a severe shout in solo modes, only adds to the beauty of the enigma. Unsurprisingly, he’s nearer to shout mode here without getting full-blown disruptive, utilizing English to ask, “Do you still have a mystery?” The words lead into another round of pummeling, with Ambarchi undertaking a cyclical motif on the drums as the amps rumble and splatter and Haino keeps asking that question.

It’s a good question, and Beginning to Fall in Line Before Me, So Decorously, the Nature of All That Must Be Transformed is another splendid excursion from a trio of uncommon abstraction and power. Hopefully Nazoranai follow up this US label debut with a few stateside shows. It’d be worth travelling to witness this sound up close.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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