Relapse Records’ first bold step into the Japanese hardcore reissue game was certainly fraught with controversy. From unobtainable limited versions to pre-order website crashes to that whole swastika debacle (good band name, btw), the label was swallowing shit well before anyone had actually seen or heard its “Detestation” repress in real life. It just didn’t seem fair for such a seemingly well-meaning product. I mean, it’s a legit vinyl issue of Japan’s most notorious and heralded hardcore LP—one that hasn’t been in regular circulation since the mid-1980s (and even that’s stretching it). Y’all ease up a bit!
Sure, Relapse’s 2020 G.I.S.M. update wasn’t perfect. The higher-contrast art with fake, glued-on obi strip was baffling as hell, and the quieter, darker mix fell a little flat, too. But you know what? WHO CARES?! It’s a solid-enough reissue of a stone-cold classic, PLUS you don’t have to worry about Sakevi beating down your bootleg-buying door with a gol’dern baseball bat for owning it. A win/win, I’d say!
Assuming Relapse’s intentions stay true, I’m 1,000 percent on board for this new wave of artist-authorized East Asian cult punk repackagings. And up next: ZOUO!
I totally get following “Detestation” with a Zouo compilation because that’s exactly how Japanese hardcore trickles down. First, you hear G.I.S.M. and your world is changed. What IS this alien sound? It’s so psychotic! So demonic! I’ve never heard anything like this! Wait… IS there anything else like this? Is that even possible? Then somebody more in-the-know hips you to Zouo and the worldchanging starts all over again.
With a smaller catalog and a less-storied past, it makes sense you gotta dig past Tokyo’s G.I.S.M. to get to Osaka’s Zouo. But once you get there, OH MAN. We’re talking HardcoreHeavyMetalMayhem at its finest. Riffs and grunts and Satan, what more do you need? Zouo is basically Venom with mohawks, and I can think of few things more appealing than that.
The band’s lone ep, “The Final Agony,” is a true monster of hardcore… hellish, bizarre and—most importantly—HEADBANGABLE. It’s perfect. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty difficult to track down. There was a 2011 reissue on Crust War that’s become outlandishly pricy ($40+), and a 1984 AA Records original is gonna set you back at least 10 times that IF you can even find a copy.
Being a shithead record gremlin, you know I had to get that AA original, but the sucker whitewhale’d me for a LOOONG time, including a fruitless and heartbreaking Turkish money order I’d rather not get into. But, hey, I was FINALLY able to secure my own little 7” slice of Hell this past winter. It was a sweaty purchase, no doubt, but one I’ll never regret. After all, “The Final Agony” is one of the best 7”s ever made.
And because I’m lucky enough to sit here with a 1984 original AND this new 12”, I can do the A/B legwork for you and say RELAPSE NAILED IT. “Agony Remains” sounds GREAT. It’s very faithful to the original: crunchy, cacophonous, and grimy as fuck. It’s mid-fi heretical thrash at its most mid-fi and heretical.
The A-side gives you all four tracks from “The Final Agony” plus Zouo’s weirdly raging contributions from the “Hardcore Unlawful Assembly” compilation. As much as I appreciate faithful reproductions from head to toe, these six tracks flow together so well and sound so good together, any gripes I could find with Relapse’s faux-distressed cover art or barebones insert sheet are pretty much moot. At the end of the day, I’m just stoked these all-timer tracks are finally available to the mass market. The fact that you can walk into a record store and pick up an officially licensed, sweet-sounding Zouo reissue is fucking awesome, and the thought of some 12-year-old kid stumbling onto “Bloody Master” on Spotify warms the cockles of my drying, pre-middle-aged heart.
Oh yeah, the B-side compiles a buncha iffy-sounding live tracks that I’d put squarely in “For Fans Only” territory. Swing by my tent if you’re ever in the neighborhood.