The two-guitar quartet Insurrection, assembled by saxophonist and composer John Zorn, is back with their second album, less than a year after their first. The group continues to include Matt Hollenberg and Julian Lage on guitars, Trevor Dunn on bass, and Kenny Grohowski on drums. Hollenberg and Grohowski were both members of a previous Zorn project, Simulacrum, and Dunn is a longtime collaborator, most notably as a member of Moonchild alongside drummer Joey Baron, vocalist Mike Patton, and various guests.
Insurrection‘s self-titled debut included 10 tracks, each given a title in tribute to a famous experimental novel (“The Atrocity Exhibition,” “A Void,” “The Unnameable,” etc.). This one is called Salem, 1692 (buy it from Amazon) and is a suite dedicated to or inspired by the Salem witch trials in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The music is much noisier and more metallic than that on the debut, and frequently has a relentless, obsessive quality that makes me think Zorn has been listening to a lot of guitarist Mick Barr‘s solo work. “Tituba” features the kind of frantic stop-start energy, hairpin turns, lightning-fast repetition and jagged, barbed-wire tone heard on Orthrelm, Octis and Ocrilim records.
“Malleus Maleficarum,” the shortest track on the album at just 2:32, begins with an explosive drum outburst, but the guitars come in almost instantly and in full cry. They’re shrieking and tearing at the music, like a cross between Mahavishnu Orchestra and late ’80s/early ’90s technical metal like Pestilence or Coroner, with Grohowski’s cymbals slashing the air behind them.
It’s not all hyper-aggressive skronk ‘n’ slam, though. “Dark of the Moon” is a lovely, jazzy ballad that lets Trevor Dunn stand on equal footing with Hollenberg and Lage. His deep, liquid bass booms and throbs beautifully between their intertwining guitars, which recall 1950s easy listening instrumentals like “Quiet Village,” with just a little extra bite.
Salem, 1692 is a tougher, noisier album than Insurrection, but it’s instantly recognizable as the work of the same composer and the same band. Fans of John Zorn‘s more rock-oriented music (Simulacrum, Moonchild, Electric Masada, Painkiller, Naked City) should absolutely make both Insurrection CDs part of their collection.