One of the reasons I had to investigate this latest album from the always prolific Masami Akita is that I was surprised it took him this long to make a cat themed album. A staunch animal rights activists and composer of many animal themed albums (Chickens! Bears! Dolphins! A whole bunch of other birds!), it took well over 40 years into his career to produce something in respect of the venerable house feline. How much this applies beyond the title and beautiful photography used as packaging is of course questionable, but musically it is Akita at his most diverse.
It has been ages since I have listened to new Merzbow material, but I found myself rather surprised at the diversity of sounds on CATalysis. My interest started to wane once he went full laptop, and I always preferred his earlier tape/loop based works, so the fact that this in many ways feels like a hybrid of the two is a wonderful thing. Right from the opening "CATalysis No. 1," this combination is notable: metallic chain rattles over an electronic windstorm as everything is swept into an intense, collapsing overdrive. Harsh loops and shrill feedback make for some multifaceted pairings, and some great stereo effects add further depth.
"CATalysis No. 2" is similar, with a hollow banging and revving engine type noise relenting to wet synth pulsations. There are lots of electronic stabs paired with junk-like banging, with the noise almost becoming rhythmic at times. Akita shifts things around with "CATalysis No. 3," which is far less of a sustained roar than anything else on the album, but instead blends the metal banging and thumping with sparser electronic bleeps and bloops. The result is more collage-like and harkens back to his early 80s tape work from a structural standpoint, but still sounds like contemporary Merzbow.
"CATalysis No. 4," on the other hand, goes hard into the "harsh" realm of his work. Immediately a mix of shrill feedback and roaring electronics, I had to turn the volume knob down quickly and kept it down for the remainder of the piece. The shrillness comes and goes, but some rudimentary synth tones and lots of delay manipulation balance things out well, and it occasionally drifts into wall noise territories. The nearly 23 minute closer "Hat 1046," besides having a baffling title compared to the remainder of the album, encompasses almost everything that came before. There is a bit more synth sounds overall, but the overall relentlessness of noise sounds like golden era Merzbow, albeit a bit less harsh overall. Ironically, a bit of a tweaked synth passage almost sounds like the meow of a cat for the first time, and it shows up on a piece titled "Hat 1046."
I found myself pleasantly surprised at the variety Akita displays on CATalysis, but part of that may simply be my intentionally limited Merzbow consumption in recent years. Many of the same elements appear throughout this disc: bleeping synths, banging metal, and a ton of distortion, but his varying implementation of them makes each piece stand out distinctly. The whole album has a bit of a digital sheen to it, at times sounding intentionally reduced bit rates, but it works well, in my opinion. Anything but monochromatic, it is disc that encompasses a lot of style, but still has an album-like sense of cohesion, which puts it high in my own personal Merzbow hierarchy.