GRIDLINK - "I Need To Get Out Of This"

February 27, 2014, 10 years ago

By Greg Pratt

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It's bittersweet looking back now at grindcore trailblazers DISCORDANCE AXIS' third album, 2000's The Inalienable Dreamless (which I gave a very rare 10/10 review of for this very site). It is an amazing, stunning grindcore album, but it always carries with it an air of sadness, because it was the band's last. But, on the other hand, I can appreciate and respect that: a band going out when they're on top is always a respectful move.

Discordance Axis vocalist Jon Chang went on to form GRIDLINK, another stunning, next-level grindcore band that took the elements of Discordance Axis that we all loved so much--a strict, blinders-on approach to blasting grindcore and a sense of drama and emotion not often heard in extreme music--and streamlined things even further, releasing a couple of jaw-dropping 12-minute albums (Amber Grey in 2008 and Orphan in 2011). For their latest, Longhena, the band has extended that running time to 21 minutes, and delivered the news that will bring long-time grind fans back to the feeling of holding copies of The Inalienable Dreamless and wondering what to do next: this will be Gridlink's last album. Even more surprising, it will be Chang's last grindcore album.

"It's definitely a career-ending record, for a couple of reasons," says Chang. "We worked on it for a long time. I think it's the best record I've ever done. Previously I thought the last HAYAINO DAISUKI [a manic thrash band that Chang also sings in] was the best record I'd ever done, because I thought 'Ghosts of Purgatory' was the best song I'd ever written. But I'm very happy with how the whole thing came out."

As he should be: the album is an extremely accomplished and mature grindcore release, with extra instrumentation providing new dimensions but never dulling the razor-sharp edge of it all. It's a stunning release, even if it wasn't easy to put together.

"It was a very, very challenging record to prepare for and to record," says Chang. "It was a challenging band to be a part of. With all the members spread out across the world we had a lot of challenges there."

And at what point during the recording did Chang realize it was going to be the last Gridlink, and his last grind album? Pretty early on, which is probably part of the reason the whole thing has an air of finality to it.

"Going in to the record, [guitarist] Takafumi [Matsubara] had told me this was probably going to be his last grindcore record, and I said I kinda felt the same way," says Chang (the lineup that recorded Longhena also consisted of ex-BURNT BY THE SUN bassist Ted Patterson and KILL THE CLIENT drummer Bryan Fajaro). "A lot of it has to do with the time investment it takes to do the record. He spent about two and a half to three years writing this record. We had one or two of these songs started when Orphan was done. It took a long time to write the other songs. I spent a lot of time writing; I had written lyrics for the entire record and gave them to a friend to read them and told him what I was going for. He told me he thought it was really not working, and a lot of lines weren't good. So I went in and re-wrote the entire record and had to learn all new lyrics."

Rewriting the lyrics wasn't the only challenge Chang faced during the recording process. Indeed, struggles within the band had got him to a point where he began questioning not only continuing the band but why he does this kind of music in the first place.

"I got exhausted," he admits. "I was so emotionally sick of dealing with the other guys in the band by the time we were going through it I was literally making myself ill. And I thought, I need to get out of this. This is not healthy for myself to be in. I'm not without fault. I can be a controlling asshole. But we had a vision for something, and I didn't want to compromise on reaching that vision because I thought we really had something different and special. So I fought really hard on everything the guys wanted to move around, a lot of the decisions I really pushed back hard. I pushed back on all the records, but this one specifically I really got into a lot of arguments. It was really clear to me that I don't need that. I'm 40 years old and I'm sitting around bickering with people over stuff... it's funny, when you think about it. It's a two or three minute song that maybe someone is going to listen to and it maybe might have an impact on them, and I'm willing to go to the max and fight for hours. I thought, 'Why am I doing this to myself? Why are these other people doing this to themselves? What is the point of this?'"

Longhena is as good a way to go out as could be imagined, the album a fascinating look at where grindcore can go when its creators are both rigid with sticking to the rules (blast fast, blast fast, blast fast) and also open to exploring new shades and textures (hello, violin). And one new texture on here is that of the voice of a classic legend of grindcore, Paul Pavlovich. Pavlovich sung for one of the greatest grind bands of all time, Assück, on their classic Anticapital album. And while he hasn't done much since, Chang convinced him to come out to lay down vocals for one song on Longhena.

"They [Assück] were the only other grindcore band [aside from Discordance Axis] that was on the east coast, arguably the only other grindcore band in the States for a long time. Three or four years ago Paul found me on Facebook and dropped me a line saying how much he liked what Gridlink was doing, and he thought the whole aesthetic was cool and different. It was good to hear him say that, because his art had definitely been an influence to me early on."

Chang says that there was a part on the album that needed some deeper vocals, and Pavlovich came to mind. So he got in touch and asked, and the rest is grindcore history in the making.

"I thought it would go really well with Paul, but I didn't know if he'd want to come out of retirement to just be on this record. I told him it's probably going to be the last grind record I was going to do. He got really excited, was into the concept of the record and the song. And I think he was just right for that part."

We rang up Pavlovich to get his take on being part of Longhena; his excitement for the album, and for Gridlink in general, is obvious (and this was after we talked his ear off for half an hour about how great of an album Anticapital is).

"Gridlink is awesome," says Pavlovich. "It's incredible. It's the evolution of a grind band that you would expect, that it would become more sophisticated than just hyper-fast playing. There's a technical aspect to their music which is really impressive. I guess 'sophisticated' is the best word I can come up with. That record is an accomplishment. You know Jon is one of those guys who's super critical about things, and he's a perfectionist to the tenth degree; you're never really quite sure where he stands with something, but I think that he's truly proud of this record and he should be. It's quite an accomplishment."

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