Album Review: Zouo – Agony 憎悪 Remains


Album Review: Zouo - Agony 憎悪 Remains
Reviewed by Dan Barnes

The Japanese underground is still a rich seam to mine, with overlooked bands from back in the day finding a wider audience due, in part, to the advent and advancement of digital platforms.

This compilation of Osaka’s Zouo, brainchild of Cherry Nishida, brings together some previously forgotten gems in the form of the band’s 1984 debut, The Final Agony, alongside the 2011 release, Frustration, featuring a couple of tracks previously available on the 1984 compilation Hardcore Unlawful assembly.

Agony Remains can be said to be split into five distinct sections, with the aforementioned releases making up sections 1 and 2 and the rest being composed of three live recordings from the early 1980s.

There are some double ups with the live and studio material, but to hear the likes of Blood Master and Making Love with the Devil in a live environment, powered by the aggression and passion of a band being driven on by their crowd makes those, and other, duplicated tracks more than worth the inclusion.

First up are the four tracks from The Final Agony and listening to them through the long passage of time it is pertinent to remind yourself of when this 7” was released. The production is lo-fi, as you would expect, but that does not defer from the raw aggression held in the recordings.

Sons of Satan and Making Love with the Devil arrive with the unbridled anger of early Venom and, considering this was barely three years after Chronos, et al had released Welcome to Hell and their influential status was far from being confirmed, Zouo’s use of the repetitive riff and multi-layered, reverb vocals, is more compliment than cash-grab.

Side two of the debut draws inspiration from the UK82 scene, with No Power’s atmospheric guitar introduction hinting at a ballad but delivering a full-on rage-fuelled tirade straight out of The Exploited’s playbook. On Bloody Master the sound is thicker as the D-Beat kicks in and there’s the addition of an odd choral accompaniment.

The UK82 elements are more polished on Frustration than on No Power, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less in your face. The improved production values and variation in tempo show Zouo have developed as both songwriters and musicians; Hell, there’s even a bit of whistling – Roger Whittaker style – included as the band’s ire toward the system knows no bounds.

Probably the most surprising use of an influence is heard on You Like it that Way; a cleaner, more polished composition, with a sharper guitar sound and a mid-section break straight off a Hawkwind record. I even checked the notes to see if Dave Brock was a collaborator.

Agony Remains is an absolute gem for fans of the old-school UK82 scene and goes to show that, even though Zouo were half a world away, more unites us than divides us. A message more timely than ever, I think.

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