Don’t get me wrong: I love a good primitive straightforward grindcore album as much as the next guy who really really loves a good primitive straightforward grindcore album. I’ll take all the Agathocles albums you’ve got, even if they’re pretty much all the same.
But I still get intrigued when a band takes the basic tenets of grindcore — the loud, the fast, the angry — and twists them into something new. Self-described “immigrind” outfit Chepang has done that through three previous releases now, heading on an upward trajectory through the destructive Lathi Charge EP and the devastatingly strong full-length Dadhelo: A Tale Of Wildfire to 2018’s split with Brazil’s Test that preceded the collaborative effort Barriga de Verme. Chatta builds upon the basis of those, which is predominantly raw and uncompromising grinding, and now casts an even wider shadow, incorporating the oddball improvisational influences of Barriga de Verme, and all to a damned good result.
Immediately pushing against grindcore’s boundaries, Chatta opens with the saxophone blare of “Pahilo Bhet,” performed by Danish musician Mette Rasmussen and immediately redolent of John Zorn’s Painkiller or his appearance on Napalm Death’s “Everyday Pox.” It’s far less of a traditional approach to playing the instrument and more akin to electric guitar feedback, a squalling textural noise that drops off into a stuttering riff and the lockstep barrage of Chepang’s two-drummer attack. It’s not entirely a new trick for grind — see the Zorn reference above — but it’s nonetheless an engaging one, a high-pitched siren sound to catch the ear and hook the brain, and it’s revisited in the later track “Antim Bhet,” which wraps another grinder into three minutes of jazz-inflected experimentalism that effectively closes the album proper. (At that point, though, the more astute among us will recognize that there are still five tracks remaining on Chatta. More on those in a bit…)
Highlights creep forth from Chatta’s swirling fifteen-minute grindcore maelstrom with regularity — the Voivod-y dissonant riffery of the fifteen-second “Hantakari” that swings right into the grin-inducing swagger of “Pakhandi,” the chaotic lead guitar work of “Sano Dhukur” and its follow-up “Kalilo,” the shout-along vocal hooks over the relentless pounding of “Samajik Suchana” or the punky drive of “Murkha”… The bulk of Chatta is pure, gleefully grinding mayhem with those gnarled complex chord voicings leaping out around every corner, while that two-drummer set-up lends the whole affair an absolutely crushing percussiveness. For all of the words that will inevitably surround Chatta‘s experimental bent — my own words included — it’s here, in these twelve tracks that the album makes its mark, where its waste-laying power truly lies, and it’s these tracks that admittedly hew closest to Chepang’s established norm. To make a dumb analogy: Think of it a bit like a pissed-off gorilla in a really cool hat — it’s certainly an oddity, but if all you’re focused on is how golly-gee-neato the hat is, then you’re about to get your ass kicked by the bulk of the overall picture, which is just a big-ass angry beast.
Outside of Kshitiz Moktan’s hook-laden guitar work and the relentless twin-drum and twin-vocal attack (and make no mistake: it is relentless), a large part of Chatta’s experimentalism is separated from its grinding. Most of it comes in the final track “Trishna,” which brings together the album’s guest performers – Rasmussen, former Gridlink guitarist Takafumi Matsubara, Nepalese folk musician Diwas Gurung, and Bhutanese guitarist Tashi Dorji – into a four-minute free-form freak-out. It’s a nice enough wind-down after the pounding that came before it, and it harks directly back to Barriga de Verme, but it’s more experiment than grand revelation. From that transition point, the second side of the record crosses over into electronic / quasi-industrial territory, with remixes of “Pakhandi” and “Samajik Suchana,” as well as two that are just given the album’s title. I’ll concede that I have very little interest in electronic music, so I’ll leave it up to any interested listener to determine if these remixes are worthy — I listened to each a handful of times, and though I enjoyed the Foseal remix of “Samajik Suchana,” there was nothing within any of the four that transcended the killing cacophony of the original versions.
All in, Chatta feels a bit like two albums connected by a bridge: the kinetic grindcore of the first twelve tracks that collapses into the frantic noisiness of “Antim Bhet” and re-emerges through “Trishna” to those remix tracks. As such, I can’t say that its experimentalism is integrated seamlessly — the two sides of Chatta are literally that, but the grind and the weirdness also only interact directly in isolated instances. Regardless, it’s still an intriguing approach to a style that too often is criticized for all sounding the same, and for the less adventurous grinders amongst us, the split nature of it does allow for the most free-form and electronic influences to be easily side-stepped in favor of the blasting.
Here as always, Chepang is following their muse; they’re incorporating new influences and approaches, and that desire to experiment is exactly why they’ve risen up to be one of the more interesting outfits in grindcore in just a few short years. Overall, Chatta is a damned fun grind record with a few twists, and it’s another feather in the band’s proverbial cap. Perhaps most exciting is the promise that it holds: It will definitely be fun to see what Chepang chooses to do next. For now, though, Chatta will absolutely do — it’s got the loud, the fast, the angry, the weird… It’s got the whole Chepang…