The news earlier this year that Gridlink were returning with a new album, their first since 2014’s Longhena, on one hand felt like it was coming, but on the other felt like the discovery of the Holy Grail. Everyone knew it could be somewhere, but didn’t truly expect anyone to pop up to say, ‘Here it is’. The legacy of Longhena to live up to is fairly undeniable. The technicality of each member’s part beneath the glass-shattering squeals of Jon Chang created a melodic and controlled explosion of grindcore which no band have matched. It took the genre to sonic heights beyond the ‘noise not music’ beginnings of Napalm Death and brutality of the hardcore-leaning Assuck, mixing in haunting melodies and progressive touches not expected of the genre. Since their disappearance, their mantle was somewhat taken by Wormrot who built in stature up to the release of last year’s stellar Hiss; so the question now is, are Gridlink still the masters of their craft?
It’d be hard to argue otherwise. Across eleven songs and 19 minutes, they waste no time and expend all of their energy in delivering something equally as violent and technical as you’d expect. “Orphan” was once used in a torture scene in the US terrorist drama Homeland, but Coronet Juniper feels like lingchi with a butcher’s precision. It’s uncompromising and the speed is mind-blowing. The only music I can think of being even close to as fast is breakcore or cybergrind, so this having been created entirely organically makes it all the more mesmerising.
Throughout the album, Takafumi Matsubara’s guitar work is the highlight. His graceful technicality is effortless even at the highest speeds. Throughout each track he weaves a hauntingly beautiful soundscape without leaving a second’s breath or missing a moment which needs a blast on top. It really is a guitarist’s masterwork that is as chaotic as it is melodic without sacrificing even the tiniest bit of class. Melodies like these are rare in heavy music at all; when they usually appear they feel forced, and yet here is a modern classical touch of melody interspersed with grindcore violence. There isn’t actually a moment across the album where Matsubara isn’t worth highlighting, whether it’s the opening grunts of “Anhalter Bahnhof”, the back-to-back melodies of “Nickel Grass Mosaic”, the layers of “Zygomatic”, or the super-technical chaos of “Refrain”. Coronet Juniper is simply a canvas Matsubara has used to paint another masterpiece.
The rhythm section is equally incredible. A friend once told me that grindcore drummers are just failed d-beat drummers because they just never know when to stop. Never have I imagined a time when this is less true. Bryan Fajardo may not know when to stop, which is exactly what Gridlink deserves. This hyper-grindcore maximalism is what makes them such an incredible prospect. It’s no surprise he can deliver with the breakcore speed, though; while Venetian Snares creates percussion with this pace on his laptop, Fajardo just gets on with the job. Also a member of the legendary Phobia, Kill The Client, Noisear, and Cognizant, Fajardo is a busy man year-round, but in a minute behind the kit he created as much noise as most drummers seem to make in a lifetime. “Ocean Vertigo” features one of Matsubara’s rare solos, leaving plenty of space beneath the thoughtful melodies – space which is instantly filled by the frantic blasting of Fajardo. The rhythmic pace is held by a few cymbal hops at points but the blast beats and brutal attacks start and stop on an instant, and he launches into full pace from nothing as if turning on a switch.
What Gridlink are is a sort of all-star team of grindcore musicians. This is still true on bass where they have a new addition, their only change from the lineup of Longhena. Suitably, it’s not a man who hasn’t been there and done that as it’s Maruta’s Mauro Cordoba. Maruta’s two albums are some of the 2010’s most interesting grindcore albums and he’s a perfect fit. While he doesn’t take centre stage ahead of either Matsubara in the string department or Fajardo in the rhythm section, Cordoba’s bass rumbling and frolicking are majestic as a part of the band. There is a sense that he holds the band in place and yet weaves in melodies underneath the guitars and solidifies the histrionic percussion. Of film music, they often say the best is what you don’t hear; it can be easy not to hear Cordoba’s work as it allows everyone else to shine, but listen closely and you’ve opened a cave of depths. First track “Silk Ash Crusade” opens up with refrains allowing just small moments to shine, which he does, before taking a supporting role behind the maestro Matsubara for most of the album.
Finally, the inimitable Chang is forever key to the sound of any band he appears in. In 2023, he’s irrepressible as ever and his shrieks are as high pitched as a dog whistle (I promise I’m not talking about some of his previous social media posts). Coronet Juniper is a level up from the Chang of No One Knows What The Dead Think, which was almost like an AI-generated version that sounded like him without quite feeling like the real thing. His work with Gridlink has always felt a little more polished than Discordance Axis, and overall this is a huge outing from one of grindcore’s most recognisable and interesting voices. He doesn’t let up across the 19 minutes, hurling his voice around like an irrepressible banshee. No one ever expected a varied performance, nor would we want one, and what we have is an animalistic attack throughout. Closer “Revenant Orchard” is a real Chang special. It’s the longest song on the album and has the non-stop caterwauling vocals right up to the end. They actually they step up partway through the song as Chang finds another lung, adding extra notes and force. As Matsubara ramps up the melody into the ending you might expect a clean ending – not from Chang. More characteristic squealing just adds a welcome contrast as it has throughout the album to bring it to an end.
Coronet Juniper is a long overdue and welcome return from the mythical grindcore legends. Across the album, we find the brute force of Chang and the rhythm is just thrown off-kilter by Matsubara’s flashes of melody. From the opening seconds of “Silk Ash Cascade” to the restraint of the closer “Revenant Orchard”, Coronet Juniper confirms Gridlink are as special as they ever were and that time has done nothing to dull their blades.