Merzbow in the 21st century has been an interesting ride for listeners. He conquered noise mountain, retired the analog gear (mostly) in favor of a laptop computer, and continued to expand the once reductive palette of sound at his disposal. In the analog era it was just electronics (sometimes identified as synthesizer or theremin and sometimes not) along with tapes or metal objects, but more and more Masami Akita has gone out of his way to identify his sources in this phase of his Merzbow work. Sphere credits computer and percussion, and there is some electric bass here as well. There are four tracks, with the title track separated into three parts. The album opener, "Sphere, Pt.1," starts with drums that sound closer to traditional Japanese drums than the drum kit employed on 2001's Doors Open at 8 AM. A wash of steady midrange static soon enters the picture and the drums become the foil of Merzbow's filtering. Pitch and tempo fluctuate wildly for a while, with a single low drum slowly pulsing in the background. Eventually, the chaotic modulations achieve a rhythmic flow and lock in with the slow beat of the lone drum, creating the hypnotic center that closes the piece. The transformation sneaks up and the track is long gone before listeners can realize just how subtle and clever the whole thing was. The other two parts of "Sphere" follow their own shadowy logic, using the same sources as "Pt. 1" and introducing some new ones, like the gritty low-end bass that starts "Pt. 2," to different ends. At just under half an hour, the last piece on the disc, "Untitled for Vasteras," would have stood as a release on its own in the old days of ten to 30 Merzbow releases a month. "Vasteras" displays the same mastery of sonics as the three parts of "Sphere" but without the identifiable acoustic instrument markers; it is therefore more than just length that makes this track feel so different from the rest of the album. While it doesn't necessarily jibe with the rest of Sphere, the Möbius strip patterns it produces, folding the foreground into the background until its swelling conclusion, certainly won't disappoint any Merzbow fans. Think of Sphere as the first two-for-one disc from Tzadik.
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AllMusic Review by Wade Kergan