Review Summary: Traditional Korean instruments meet post rock with noise leanings...
There is a lot more to South Korean music than just Kpop and Jambinai are one of the most representative acts to emerge from the local scene in the past few years. The group plays a crushing mix of post rock with noise & metal leanings, accompanied by traditional Korean instruments such as haegeum, geomungo and piri. While the latter are more often associated with relaxing ambient music, the band usually inserts them in the most uneasy and harrowing moments. The eclectic results remind of broken Swans grooves, Wang Wen or a more condensed Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Jambinai quickly found their feet, as their excellent debut LP, Différance
was an immersive journey with both tensed and serene moments. On 2016’s A Hermitage
, they consolidated their strengths by crafting more detailed and moodier tracks. All this exploration led to a climax, which I consider to be their latest work, ONDA
. Since it offers the most cohesive experiments from the trio-turned-quintet so far, I already consider it a step forward. There is more variation and emphasis on vocals to be found here as well. The first half of the album brings forth their heaviest material yet at different tempos. Opener, ‘Sawdust’ starts with a thrilling mix of traditional instruments, before bursting into a chunky groove topped by “mechanical” haegeum leads. The distortion and tom-heavy drumming gradually become louder, until the bass takes over on a subdued segment. As things take a darker twist towards the end, the wall of noise intensifies, before the main rhythm brings the track to a close. Then, the bipolar ‘Square Wave’ and ‘Event Horizon’ fuel this uncanny trip. The sharp guitar washes, alongside high-pitched haegeum noises of the former contrast the beautiful, melodic vocals. Some solace can only be found on the friendlier, but dense choruses. ‘Event Horizon’ finds everyone frantically unleashing another round of harsh sound, only to fall into polyrhythmic geomungo patterns. Chants and flutes (piri) grace the middle part, however, loud guitars and drums rush back in. This track’s flow is akin to an anger release and it works so well when listened to at high volume. Meanwhile, the lyrics from ‘Sun. Tears. Red.’ are tied to the Korean independence war against Japanese imperialism. They portray the soldier’s view and mindset, therefore, the music features several build-ups to suffocating peaks. It all seems like chaos at a first glance, nevertheless, the structure is actually nicely detailed.
The second half of ONDA
turns out to be a more introspective and established affair. ‘In the Woods’ was initially released on the self-titled EP in 2010, although the rearranged, enriched version found here shares a more poignant vibe, similar to a pastoral scene gone dark (or alternately, a Silent Hill scenario). It relies a lot on prolonged interplay between the traditional instruments, intensifying through bass notes and spectral voices. Even so, the ending somehow feels uplifting, like finding a way out of that sinister forest. ‘Small Consolation’ does for the most part what the title implies, boasting clean guitar notes and soft, spoken vocals. A couple of minutes in, the haegeum starts playing and that’s usually where things go “wrong”. Some might find its pitch too much to bear, still, the instruments adds a substantial change in sound whenever used. Moreover, the hard hitting riffs evoke a different feel, one that’s less menacing as the record reaches the end. The closing title track sums up this eerie journey, transitioning from busy, tribal-like drum patterns and droning strings to full power riffage. The band sings together all along, providing a charming layer to the volatile instrumental. There’s also a feeling of accomplishment that sets in when the music is over, like you’ve drained the bad energy from your body. Jambinai have crafted a beast of an album with the perfect length to maintain its punch. Besides this, there are many idiosyncratic elements here which are hard to forget and easy to recognize once listened to. Though their music isn’t for everyone, once you get to the gist of it, it’s very rewarding.