It's always interesting to hear a band when they reach the curtain call. Longhena is Gridlink's declaration to the world: they are no more, history is devouring them and all they will leave behind is the resonance of their art through the ages. They frankly don't give a fuck what anyone thinks, because this is it. One last shot at codifying their identity into sonic form and leaving it for the masses to judge and disseminate among themselves. Longhena feels very much like an album made for the musicians who created it, and we all get to bask in that freedom of not giving two flying fucks.
You can probably guess what Longhena is all about. Grindcore, like much of Extreme Metal(yes, it's Metal), is very much a genre of tradition and paradigms. Longhena has not need for such things, and both are ripped to shreds in melodic, Heavy Metal riffs and longing ambient pieces. In fact, it's debatable whether Gridlink were even trying to make a Grindcore record here, or rather just some sort of distillation of their musical taste's and influences which includes healthy doses of Traditional Metal, Grindcore, Prog Rock and Ambient, all vigorously whipped together with a futuristic, Japanese cyber punk flavor and Jon Chang's legendary vocals and powerful, poetic prose.
Jon Chang. If I can fanboy out for a moment, I need to talk about Jon Chang. Not the man, as I don't personally know him, but Jon Chang the vocalist. If the end of Gridlink means one sad thing for me, it's the idea that this might be the last we hear of him as one of the defining vocalists of his generation. Many love his style and many hate his style. Others find it unimpressive. But when Chang provides vocals for a project, everyone know it is him: his manic, inhuman shrieks and throaty guttural grunts are simply unmatched within Extreme Metal in general, and when I was grinding out vocals for some shitty Grindcore band that I really loved playing in(even if we were shitty), I tried to channel Chang in every performance. I tried to channel the wrath, disgust and complete humanity that Chang gave us on The Inalienable Dreamless. Often, when praising vocalists, especially Extreme Metal vocalists, we praise them for how they seem to have transcended their humanity and transformed in raging beasts, subterranean demons or longing banshees. But Chang's gift comes from the overwhelming, soul crushing humanity of his vocals. This is what makes him special, and for me the greatest Extreme Metal vocalist ever.
It helps Longhena that this is the best Chang has sounded since his time with Discordance Axis. It was hard not to noticed a down tick in intensity with Gridlink's previous releases and with Hayanio Daisuki, though this can be chalked up to the obvious throat damage of Chang's unhinged style surely has brought. But like the unhinged and off-kilter style of Longhena the album, Chang is clearly pulling out all the stops, throat be damned.
Grindcore be damned as well. From the opening sparkly and bouncy riff of "Constant Autumn," to the whirring Heavy Metal dual melody attack of "Ketsui" to the somber, dissonant Prog Metal sections of "Island Sun," Longhena declares itself separate from the classification. "Thirst Watcher" provides a moment of quiet introspection early in the album, as clean guitars twirl and dance with muted electronic sounds and a howling violin, and it certainly stands out as unlike anything you would have expected. Longhena does have some solid moments of what's mostly Grindcore: "Chalk Maple" is still highly melodic, but feels like a good Tech Grind songs and features some brilliant guest vocals from Paul Pavolich of Assuck fame(man, this album can't be more awesome.) "Wartime Exception Law 2005" blasts through a mere 29 seconds of techy, lush Grindcore and dissonant, off axis musical twisting, feeling pretty close to something off of Amber Gray or Orphan. Takafumi Matsubara is a relentless shred master, which he showed with Hayanio Daisuki, but he also shows a brilliant affinity for technical, metallic Grindcore riffs and discordant compositions.
There is an undeniable current of beauty that flows through Longhena which gives it a feeling that seems so totally alien to Extreme Metal. Dare I say, Longhena sounds very... happy at times. Not that is doesn't have it's dark and somber moments("Island Sun"), but there is a very noticeable positive slant to the entire experience. Gridlink are having a hell of a lot of fun on with this material, and it's impossible not to smile along with them. It's all helped by a sparking, crystal clear production, but it feels perfectly appropriate considering the energy and positive vibes of the material. It's one of the most listenable and enjoyable, and highly addicting, releases I've heard, and without question the best Grindlink album.
Longhena is the musical equivalent of a walk off grand-slam; it's rare, it's powerful and it fucking wins the game. My love for Grindcore and for Discordance Axis always kept me involved in Gridlink, but I'll be the first to admit I was not a massive fan of the project. It felt too much like Discordance Axis to me, just more Japanese and clean, and yet it lacked the massive intensity and wrath of hateful conviction. This makes Longhena also sorrowfully bittersweet, as it appears in their last moment Gridlink had developed a sound which helped them stand apart from the legacy of earlier progeny and walk a new, undiscovered musical path. Yet Longhena feels largely complete, as though nothing is really missing. Gridlink are gone, but Longhena remains and will be heard and appreciated for years to come
i.e. this is how you go out with a fucking bang