This is an album I never thought I’d see. Nine years ago this little known Avant-Garde Japanese act dropped a gem of a debut that threw out all the rules before disappearing once more into the abyss of obscurity; a band known only by one of my friends as ‘the reason he’s bouncing around a Tower Records store in Tokyo’ having found a copy of their (frustratingly hard to find) debut on sale. Despite a line-up change (and sadly, the passing of original guitarist Kelly Churko in 2014), they have forged on with a follow-up that I’m glad to say is still weird as hell. It’s the stereotype now that everything coming out of Japan is weird, but it’s a stereotype that King Goblin are happy to embrace. Mixing together the 70s Psychedelic Prog Rock sound of King Crimson with an Orange Goblin-esque Stoner/Doom sensibility, Death/Grind vocal lines, and more than a dash of oddly melodic dissonance, they’ve delivered one of the strangest forty minutes of music you’re likely to hear all year.
It’s a combination that simply sounds like it shouldn’t work. I mean how could it? It’s a genre mash-up of polar opposites; noisy yet sharp meandering guitar lines shoot off in bizarre directions and often sound out of key amidst a sea of often-oddly-not-that-bassy bass lines. Slow punishing thuds set a slow pace only for it to be completely ignored a moment later when the guitars fire up, returning once more to a Sabbath-laden sludgy affair a short time later. It’s angular, sharply changing trajectory in an unpredictable fashion, and yet the whole thing remains oddly catchy. There’s a sense of rhythm about it all—a peculiar one, I’ll grant you, but a rhythm nonetheless—and it flows in a way I can only compare to Free Jazz. It’s wildly unpredictable and may go instantly from a punishing slow to a shredded guitar solo complete with blast beats, or to a meandering Stoner groove, and there’s never an indication as to which way it will go. Even after listening multiple times, I’m taken aback by the sudden shifts, but it somehow feels natural. I’m less jarred back into focus as I am constantly finding myself wondering just how it ended up transitioning from one state of affairs to the next.
If one thing remains consistent it’s the level of musicianship. There’s no sense of ‘how things should be done’; no building on the work of others in figuring out what combinations work well together, but a certain playfulness when it comes to determining a track’s composition. It gives off the sense of a free-for-all jam session, with ideas arriving in abundance and executed flawlessly. It’s unhinged—and certainly not something that's easy to listen to—but with that comes a certain sense of freedom often lost in modern music. Where most artists fit neatly into one genre or another, King Goblin remain an outlier, perfectly content to experiment with tempo and style even within the same track. It’s shocking how well it all works out, and I can only assume all the fat has been trimmed to give nothing but a prime cut. This album is like a finely aged wine; there are plenty of different palatable notes that go into its composition, but everything works in harmony with one another. So drink deep and savour the King Goblin flavour.