Merzbow is like a friend who breaks something every time he comes over. It's only a surprise the first time; after that, you have to start wondering why you keep letting it happen. Each of his releases is a white-noise assault on the brain and ears, and therefore it's easy to conclude that they're all pretty much the same. On some level, they are: If you've heard one belt sander chewing through your skull, you've heard them all. But in another way, each Merzbow disc is unique, thus creating the bizarre circumstance where it's possible to have a "favorite." No doubt Dharma will achieve this status for some.
The obvious centerpiece is the 32-minute closer, "Frozen Guitars and Sunloop/7E 802," but the three substantially shorter tracks that precede this epic each contain at least a few nearly sublime, almost "beautiful" sonic moments. The opening "I'm Coming to the Garden . . . No Sound, No Memory" starts off nearly ambient before beginning the ritual disembowelment of the listener's stereo speakers. "Piano Space for Marimo Kitty" features disjointed notes, played on an actual piano, floating amid the hisses, roars, and screams of the tortured electronics like a hand-lettered construction-paper valentine in the middle of an oil slick. "Frozen Guitars," though, gets a little tedious by the time it finally screeches to a stop.
It shouldn't be a shock that Merzbow sometimes has trouble knowing how much is too much; after all, this is the guy with a 50-CD boxed set to his name. Still, it's the short, restrained tracks that make the album worthwhile. Anybody looking to investigate noise could do a lot worse than Dharma -- should standing in front of a jetliner at takeoff not suffice.