When the three founders of Jambinai decided to, “communicate with the ordinary person who doesn't listen to Korean traditional music,” few outsiders anticipated an extra-ordinary fusion with metal, post-rock and noise. “Most people expect Asian traditional music to make something smooth for yoga or meditation,” says band spokesman Lee Il-woo. “We wanted to break all of that.” Did they achieve their aim?
Hell yes!! This is a storming album made for those nights when you want to slap on your hi-res headphones and listen to that certain something that you've never heard before that will totally blow you away and, if the volume is loud enough, will totally banjax your brain.
Now, most people who know me won't be surprised to hear me blether on about some obscure world music act that have delivered some superlative album that I love. Stand up, over the years, The Bhundu Boys, Remmy Ongala and Super Matimala and Salif Keita, but this is something again. The opening track 'Sawtooth' begins with a gentle sawing hangul, a traditional Korean stringed instrument not unlike a zither, before the guitars crash in and we have a thundering rock beast of a track. It matters not that we have no idea what the tune is about because all that really matters is that it's about 8 minutes of smouldering rock noise that recalls Mogwai at their most threatening and dangerous. The album has eight musical constructions and each one thunders along with a raft of traditional Korean instruments mixed integrally into the overall sound. They dictate the pace and the haunting nature of the material here.
The second track 'Square Wave' has an ear splitting riff that recalls the mighty Led Zeppelin at their finest, but folded away inside the thunderous noise is a female vocal that recalls Sandy Denny which, when you recall the Zep's battle at Evermore, is entirely fitting. 'Event Horizon' doesn't mess about either with another monster riff, monumental drums and that sawing hangul. The pace drops up and down and then some gentle plucking takes us back to Korean tradition. The vocal wails and the guitars crash and it's just wonderful stuff if you get nostalgic about Husker Du's slabs of rock in the late 80's. 'Sun Tears Red' opens with a staccato guitar and a ghostly vocal but you know now that lift off into the Rock stratosphere is mere seconds away and sure enough just over a minute in they take flight with another bone crunching riff.
If this is beginning to sound like a heavy metal record, dispel all such thoughts, it's much more. I've always felt that when musical fusion is attempted and works well, then it's musical nirvana and for me, that's what's on display here. I guess it won't be for everyone though as most of the tracks, and there's only eight of them, are over eight minutes and scream, roar and shout most of that time. Right in the middle we have 'In The Woods', a thirteen minute beast, that starts with a gentle acoustic guitar and the hangul picking out a delicate melody that might recall scented sunny gardens bathed in mystery with a slow persistent drone and some chiming bells. It takes a languid four minutes before the tune almost peters out but then the guitars start to crack and rise eventually building to crescendo at seven minutes before falling back with the guitar reduced to a gentle growl before this is engulffed by ominous swirling white noise as the piece winds down to a spectacular guitar thrash and lurches into a haunting vocal that brings it to a gentle conclusion with a return to the opening acoustic guitar - marvellous.
'Small Consolation' also starts gently with the prominent hangul before we're off on another six minute spectacular that'll make your ears curl. The remaining tracks continue in the same quiet-loud vein but it's endlessly inventive and if you like your rock powerful and engaging then this is one for you. It's loud but melodic, traditional but new and scales peaks of rock music I've not heard scaled in quite the same way before. Forget about your Iron Maiden, Def Leppard or Idles, THIS is the real deal and they need your money. 'Onda' is out on Bella Union on June 7th. Buy it.